Archive for the ‘Bookshelf’ Category

Last Spring

With the exhilarating and exhausting toil of the spring semester—the third of my doctoral program—now behind me and the comparatively unstructured summer weekends ahead, I am drawn once again to these words and images.


Fill yourself up with the forsythias

and when the lilacs flower, stir them in too

with your blood and happiness and wretchedness,

the dark ground that seems to come with you.


Sluggish days.  All obstacles overcome.

And if you say: ending or beginning, who knows,

then maybe – just maybe – the hours will carry you

into June, when the roses blow.


                                             ~ Gottfried Benn


“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” by John William Waterhouse, 1909

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The steadfastness of generations of nobility

shows in the curving lines that form the eyebrows.

And the blue eyes still show traces of childhood fears

and of humility here and there, not of a servant’s,

yet of one who serves obediently, and of a woman.

The mouth formed as a mouth, large and accurate,

not given to long phrases, but to express

persuasively what is right.  The forehead without guile

and favoring the shadows of quiet downward gazing.


This, as a coherent whole, only casually observed;

never as yet tried in suffering or succeeding,

held together for an enduring fulfillment,

yet so as if for times to come, out of these scattered things,

something serious and lasting were being planned.


~ Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Albert Ernest Flemming


“Contemplation” by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, 1845-1902

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The Rainy Day

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;

It rains, and the wind is never weary;

The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,

But at every gust the dead leaves fall,

And the day is dark and dreary.


My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;

It rains, and the wind is never weary;

My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,

But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,

And the days are dark and dreary.


Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;

Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;

Thy fate is the common fate of all,

Into each life some rain must fall,

Some days must be dark and dreary.


                             ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Charles Edward Perugini, circa 1888

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I’ve watched his eyelids sag, spring open

   Vaguely and gradually go sliding

      Shut again, fly up

With a kind of drunken surprise, then wobble

   Peacefully together to send him

      Home from one school early.  Soon his lashes

Flutter in REM sleep.  I suppose he’s dreaming

   What all of us kings and poets and peasants

      Have dreamed: of not making the grade,

Of draining the inexhaustible horn cup

   Of the cerebral cortex where ganglions

      Are ganging up on us with more connections

Than atoms in heaven, but coming up once more

   Empty.  I see a clear stillness

      Settle over his face, a calming of the surface

Of water when the wind dies.  Somewhere

   Down there, he’s taking another course

      Whose resonance (let’s hope) resembles

The muttered thunder, the gutter bowling, the lightning

   Of minor minions of Thor, the groans and gurgling

      Of feral lovers and preliterate Mowglis, the songs

Of shamans whistled through bird bones.  A worried neighbor

   Gives him the elbow, and he shudders

      Awake, recollects himself, brings back

His hands from aboriginal outposts,

   Takes in new light, reorganizes his shoes,

      Stands up in them at the buzzer, barely recalls

His books and notebooks, meets my eyes

   And wonders what to say and whether to say it,

      Then keeps it to himself as today’s lesson.


                                                                   ~ David Wagoner


Posted in honor of our dedicated professors on this National Teacher Day.


“In the Classroom” by Paul Louis Martin des Amoignes, 1886


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There is May in books forever;

May will part from Spenser never;

May’s in Milton, May’s in Prior,

May’s in Chaucer, Thomson, Dyer;

May’s in all the Italian books: –

She has old and modern nooks,

Where she sleeps with nymphs and elves,

In happy places they call shelves,

And will rise and dress your rooms

With a drapery thick with blooms.

Come, ye rains, then if ye will,

May’s at home, and with me still;

But come rather, thou, good weather,

And find us in the fields together.


                                     ~ James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)


“Springtime” by Claude Monet, 1872

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Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.  And then there are books […] which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.  It wasn’t even that the book was so good or anything; it was just that the author […] seemed to understand me in weird and impossible ways.


~ John Green, The Fault in Our Stars


“Lesendes Mädchen” by Franz Eybl, 1850

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Anna paid attention to herself in the same way without guests, and was also very much taken up with reading – of novels and the serious books that were in vogue.  She ordered all the books that were mentioned with praise in the foreign newspapers and magazines she received, and read them with that concentration that one only finds in solitude.


~ From Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy


National Media Museum

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