Monday, 18 June 2007


"I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself."
~C.S. Lewis

Sunday, 17 June 2007

The Seduction of the Infinite

"Poetry describes, enacts, is compelled by those moments of supreme passion, insight, or knowledge that are physical yet intuitive, that render us whole, inspired. Among verbal events - which by their nature move horizontally through time, along the lines of cause and effect - poetry tends to leap, to try to move more vertically: astonishment, rapture, vertigo - the seduction of the infinite and the abyss - what so much of it is after."
~Jorie Graham

Friday, 15 June 2007


I hope you recognise my picture to the right as being from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, as it's one of my all-time favourite films. Belle, who is naturally one of my all-time favourite heroines, shares my passion not only for books, but also for libraries. The Beast's library, and its splendour, are actually quite a significant part of the film. Here's the Beast's library:

Somebody once said, "I'd marry the Beast if I could have a library like that!" Personally I like the Beast, and I think he's much more attractive as a Beast. He's a bit of sissy when he becomes a man. Anyway, I love the part when he gives the library to Belle as a gift. It's one of the key turning points in their relationship:

And they've made a real-life copy of the library at Disneyland:

Putting my love of Disney aside for a minute, and as your resident Library Princess, I thought I'd show you some photos of the libraries which have really taken my fancy lately:

This is Melk Abbey.

Queen's College Library, Oxford.

Oxford's Bodleian Library.

This is in Peru!

Theological Hall, Strahov Monastery, Prague.

Philosophical Hall, Strahov Monastery, Prague.

Biltmore Estate, North Carolina.

However poor I am when I'm older (and as a writer/academic, I will be), I am determined that my home will have a library. Even if I have to section off part of a room that's being used for something else. I will have all of my (and hopefully my husband's and childrens') books together, and there will be somewhere to sit. And I will have a desk. I accept that I'm not going to be a wealthy woman, but I must have that. As Cicero said, "To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul."

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Little Myths

"The poem... is a little myth of man's capacity to make life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see - it is, rather, a light by which we may see - and what we see is life."
~Robert Penn Warren

From "In memory of W. B. Yeats"


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

~ W. H. Auden:

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Picture Gallery

I've been meaning to write this post for months now. I always have several on the "back burner." I can't remember when it was - months ago, anyway - the College opened up its Picture Gallery to the public for a day. The Picture Gallery is full of really wonderful Victorian paintings. We're never allowed in there, which I can sort of understand: you wouldn't want someone graffitti-ing "Gary woz ere"on your very valuable paintings, or running off with them (though I think someone would spot that - most of them are massive). It would be nice, though, if someone could come and guard the place once a week for a few hours so I could get to know the paintings by heart. There must be some other students who like them.

Apparently not, though. I went up that Sunday to see the paintings and, well, I'm always aware that I stand out a little. I don't mind that. I actually rather like it. But I felt as if I were visiting from another planet. Everyone was very posh and very old, except, that is, for the middle-class mummies and daddies dragging their bored teenagers around. All these elderly ladies in pearls, peering at a great, magnificent depiction of a Babylonian wife market, and saying, "Oh, yes, very nice." All very sedate. And there's me, in my full-length paisley coat and trailing purple scarf, feverishly scribbling notes, vaguely aware that I was muttering to myself as I did so, and trying not to gasp audibly when I saw something new. I was half in raptures, but half of me felt a bit... bizarre.

Anyway, that's neither here nor there, really. I looked the paintings up on Google Images for you, but the results were rather disappointing. I have got a few, though:

Briton Riviere - Sympathy, 1877

This is the College's "trademark" painting. It must be quite famous. We have postcards and posters and all sorts for sale. In fact, I've had a poster of it in my room all year. I don't think it's going up in the new house, though. I've kind of gone off it. I mean, yeah, it's very nice. It's cute. She's endearing, and it's interesting to wonder what she's thinking, as I always do with people in paintings. It's the dog that ruins it, I think. I mean, sympathetic, loyal little dog. It's so twee, such a cliche. Maybe it hadn't been done to death in those days.

J. Pettie - A State Secret, 1874

What a fantastic idea for a painting. This has really grown on me, especially since reading Ann Radcliffe's The Italian. There's something truly fascinating about ruthless, cruel Catholic clergy. They make the perfect villains. Perhaps because clergy are supposed to be the opposite, so our expectations and the social order are overturned. And you've got the added mystery that goes with Catholicism, the atmosphere created by the great buildings and the ceremony. The Inquisition, as well, is so scary. The idea of physical torture, dark, dank cells and corridors like the deepest, most primeval parts of the human mind, sadism, something inhuman about the inability or refusal to feel pity, wickedness disguised as righteousness, and the self-deceit that goes with that. I wish this image were close enough for me to see the clergyman's face. It's brilliantly done, the human forms and flames in the background, distant and indistinct enough to be nothing but a mural, flames which link so directly to the burning of the paper. Amazing.

Princess Elizabeth in Prison at St. James', 1879

What I like about this one is that you can almost see into her mind. The discarded books and papers are evidence that she tries to employ herself, to make the time go faster, but she cannot concentrate. She is just a little too pale, having a naturally fair complexion. She is healthy enough, but you can deduce if you look carefully that she's had no sunshine or fresh air in too long, and not enough sleep. There's a dread in her face. This painting is twinned with one of the two princes in the Tower, which you can see here.

Joshua Mann - The Cauld Blast, 1876

It's interesting... the Victorian sentimentality that comes through in so many of the paintings. It's the same sentimentality that Dickens is full of. Where did it come from, I wonder? Life has always been hard for the poor, so why the sudden heartache over it, the sudden romanticising? There have always been children, so why the sudden obsession with them? I vaguely remember, when we were studying Oliver Twist, the philosophical works we looked at, about childhood innocence and whatnot. Obviously these philosophical works got people thinking about childhood, but for me that doesn't quite explain the mania surrounding the Victorian child. Dickens had a passion, obviously. He was on a one-man mission.

Gosh, I wish I could do the Ritual and Society in C19th Fiction and Painting module next year. Unfortunately, because of the way the system works, choosing that option would have left me doing stuff I didn't particularly want to do for the rest of the English Literature half of this year's work. It wasn't quite worth it, to miss out on all the other stuff I want to do.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

A Literary Family

"I feel a part of a literary family, a community of both living and dead poets. In the way of families, I may argue vehemently with other relatives sometimes, but the empathy - the fact of inclusion - is always there... I remember reading Langston Hughes in an anthology when I was in my teens and reading a poem like Dream Boogie, where the language just hops and leaps all over the page, and recognizing a part of my life that I hadn't ever encountered in a poem before. That recognition is incredibly vital to my personal and spiritual identity."
~Rita Dove

Monday, 11 June 2007

The Cat Concert

"Poetry proves again and again that any single overall theory of anything doesn't work. Poetry is always the cat concert under the window of the room in which the official version of reality is being written."
~Charles Simic
"In a better world, poetry would need no justification beyond the sheer splendor of its existence. As Wallace Stevens once observed, 'The purpose of poetry is to contribute to man's happiness.'... Aesthetic pleasure needs no justification, because a life without such pleasure is not one worth living."
~Dana Gioia