Archive for the ‘Bookshelf’ Category

In the Library

Yesterday I enjoyed my inaugural quest into the musty stacks of the Claremont Colleges Library and emerged victorious with all the books on Grace Paley I sought.  With my first doctoral research paper due in May, I can anticipate a great deal of time will be relished here…


There’s a book called

“A Dictionary of Angels.”

No one has opened it in fifty years,

I know, because when I did,

The covers creaked, the pages

Crumbled. There I discovered


The angels were once as plentiful

As species of flies.

The sky at dusk

Used to be thick with them.

You had to wave both arms

Just to keep them away.


Now the sun is shining

Through the tall windows.

The library is a quiet place.

Angels and gods huddled

In dark unopened books.

The great secret lies

On some shelf Miss Jones

Passes every day on her rounds.


She’s very tall, so she keeps

Her head tipped as if listening.

The books are whispering.

I hear nothing, but she does.


~ Charles Simic


"The Bookworm" by Carl Spitzweg, circa 1850

“The Bookworm” by Carl Spitzweg, circa 1850

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The University Poem

Upon such days, with such-like sloth

who wants to study?  And yet, alas,

exams impend, like it or not.

I guess we’ll have to work a little…

The book, however, seems stale bread,

it’s dry, it’s stiff, I can’t bite through.

We’ve overcome much more than that…

And now I spin in bacchanalias

of terms and systems’ orgies,

and I remember midst all that

what a boat my friendly boatman

had promised me the previous day –

and all the unfinished volumes

slam shut and on their shelf.  It’s time!


~ From “The University Poem” by Vladimir Nabokov, whose controversial classic Lolita is the next text in this semester’s literary lineup at Claremont Graduate University


"Daydreams" by Thomas Couture, 1859

“Daydreams” by Thomas Couture, 1859

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There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day.  She liked then to wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places.  She discovered many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in.  And she found it good to dream and to be alone and unmolested. 

There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why,—when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation. She could not work on such a day, nor weave fancies to stir her pulses and warm her blood.


~ From The Awakening by Kate Chopin, born on this day in 1850


"A Willing Captive" by Frederick Stuart Church, 1888

“A Willing Captive” by Frederick Stuart Church, 1888

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Work without Hope

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair –

The bees are stirring – birds are on the wing –

And Winter slumbering in the open air,

Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!

And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,

Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.


Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,

Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.

Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,

For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!

With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:

And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?

Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,

And Hope without an object cannot live.


                                                   ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Caroline Léna Becker

Caroline Léna Becker

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Art, especially the stage, is an area where it is impossible to walk without stumbling.  There are in store for you many unsuccessful days and whole unsuccessful seasons: there will be great misunderstandings and deep disappointments…you must be prepared for all this, expect it and nevertheless, stubbornly, fanatically follow your own way.


~ Anton Chekhov, born on this day in 1860


Osip Braz, 1898

Portrait of Anton Chekhov by Osip Braz, 1898

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With about fourteen unread books on my bedside table currently and countless others on my shelves and must-read lists, I know just how she feels…


there were so many books.  she had to separate them to avoid being overwhelmed by the excessive implications of their words.  she kept hundreds in a series of boxes inside a wire cage in a warehouse.  and hundreds more on the shelves of her various rooms.  when she changed houses she would pack some of the books into the boxes and exchange them for others that had been hibernating.  these resurrected books were precious to her for a while.  they had assumed the patinas of dusty chthonic wisdoms.  and thus she would let them sit on the shelves admiring them from a distance.  gathering time and air.  she did not want to be intimate with their insides.  the atmospherics suggested by the titles were enough.  sometimes she would increase the psychic proximities between herself and the books and place a pile of them on the floor next to her bed.  and quite possibly she absorbed their intentions while she slept.


~ from “reading” by Joanne Burns


Federico Maldarelli, 1862

Federico Maldarelli, 1862

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Desert Places

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast

In a field I looked into going past,

And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,

But a few weeds and stubble showing last.


The woods around it have it—it is theirs.

All animals are smothered in their lairs.

I am too absent-spirited to count;

The loneliness includes me unawares.


And lonely as it is that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less—

A blanker whiteness of benighted snow

With no expression, nothing to express.


They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars—on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.


                             ~ Robert Frost


"Snow Maiden" by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1899

“Snow Maiden” by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1899

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