Meg Rutherford: The Beautiful Island

My favorite book, Meg Rutherford’s The Beautiful Island (1969), has been filmed as a video. Can you sight-read it as the text pops up?


Language points:

  • isle – island
  • memorials – memory – memorable, memorize / remember
  • towers, cathedrals, palaces, church
  • lone – lonely – alone
  • crippled – cripple – crippling
  • enchantment – enchanting – enchantingly / chant
  • courage – courageous – courageously
  • contentment – content – contentedly
  • excitement – excited – excitedly
  • windswept gorges – the wind swept across the gorges
  • sun-beaten deserts – the sun beat down on the desert
  • the sun-weary = those who are weary of the sun
  • passives:
    to mislay, to be mislaid
    to strew, to become strewn
  • to linger and rest
  • alliteration:
    drifted down
    wind whipped the waves
    cool caverns
    the sea became strewn
  • alas! (literary exclamation)
    at last (more literary than ‘finally’)
  • some crossed by tunnel and some crossed by balloon (ellipsis)
  • rhythmic meter = anapaest: till they came one by one
  • Beautiful Island (capitalization of proper nouns)
  • word partnership: bowers for lovers – lovers’ bower
  • shade vs. shadow

Merz: The Starlight Night

The lyrics of this marvelous song by Merz (1999), are by Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844–89, an English Jesuit and innovative poet who experimented with metre and developed what he called ‘sprung rhythm’, anticipating free verse.

The Starlight Night
Written Feb. 24, 1877. Published 1918

LOOK at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!—
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then!—What?—Prayer, patience, aims, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

Limericks and the life of an English teacher

Stan Carey of the Sentence First blog and the MacMillan blog and sundry other lingusitic habitats is holding a limerick competition – yeah! – and there are some really great ones there, don’t miss them. Deadline: September 21st.

My contributions are a bit dour for limericks, but such is the life of an English teacher:

Krashen wrote all about acquisition
being outside the realm of tuition
which made me morose
and take a whole course
which was fine, but I’m still no magician.

There can never be any consensus
Whether German will lull English senses
Russell Smith got it right
Spoken softly by night
by a beauty it surely mends fences.

“Until Friday,” she’d said, so I queried
“You’ll be writing all week?!” I was worried.
“No, I’ll do it on Thursday,
you’ll have it on Friday.”
“By Friday, then, fine.” Out I hurried.

Gil Scott-Heron: Where Did The Night Go?

Gil Scott Heron (1 April 1949 – 27 May 2011) – good profile on Wikipedia. Thanks to Ann Walsh for the link to this, a quieter, more personal side to the angry granddaddy of rap.

Gil Scott-Heron: Where Did The Night Go?

Long ago the clock washed midnight away
Bringing the dawn
Oh God, I must be dreaming
Time to get up again
And time to start up again
Pulling on my socks again
Should have been asleep
When I was sitting there drinking beer
And trying to start another letter to you
Don’t know how many times I dreamed to write again last night
Should’ve been asleep when I turned the stack of records over and over
So I wouldn’t be up by myself
Where did the night go?
Should go to sleep now
And say fuck a job and money
Because I spend it all on unlined paper and can’t get past
“Dear baby, how are you?”
Brush my teeth and shave
Look outside, sky is dark
Think it may rain
Where did
Where did
Where did

Kleiner, uralter Gott – Ancient little god

In a week we’ll be burying my mother’s ashes on Drummond. We’ve decided to read some of her poems, with a translation into English. She published a volume of them in the Wilhelm Andermann Verlag in Vienna in 1944 when she was 21; a miracle, since paper was so rare towards the end of the war. Her friend Stefan Hlawa provided the cover illustration.

A note on translation: With this particular poem I found you really do have to change the sequence of adjectives in English. I also found it interesting to consider the different meanings of “little” and “klein” (descriptive, diminutive, romantic/endearing…) In German, for example, Little Red Riding Hood is simply Rotkäpchen. I briefly considered writing “Tiny ancient god“. Or “Little, ancient god“, after all? Still thinking it over.

My brother Chris first introduced me to the poem when he gave me these, from a cycle he drew in the ’70s, pastels and wash on paper:

Christoph Hodgson: Kleiner uralter Gott Zyklus

Kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens
Getrud Berninger

Kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens,
der lächelt,
wenn schon die steigenden Tränen
den Schmerz bespülen.

Zärtlicher kleiner Gott ohne Namen,
ohne Gesicht,
tausendjähriger, süßer Samen
des Frühlings,

in mich vergraben, untergetaucht,
schweigend und gut,
wenn schon die Trauer der Reife
jäh überströmt.

Guter, kleiner, geliebter Gott,
Eigentum,
einsam und dunkel wie meine Träume,
die dich verschweigen,

kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens.


Ancient little god of my heart

Ancient little god of my heart,
smiling
even as tears rise
to wash over my pain

Tender little god, without a name
without a face,
sweet millennial seed
of spring,

hidden deep down inside me,
silent and good,
even as suddenly the sorrow of maturity
overflows.

Good little beloved god,
my own,
solitary and dark as my dreams
that conceal you,

ancient little god of my heart.

Dorothy Parker: Superfluous Advice

Ian James presented a lovely recording tool, Vocaroo, on his blog, and I’ll be using it in online courses. But here on this blog, dear reader, it’s an easy way to record yourself and to practice your pronunciation. Listen to my recording to help with the more difficult words. Then record yourself (you might have to press “record” twice to make it work on the second go!)

Superfluous Advicedorothy-parker

By Dorothy Parker

Should they whisper false of you,
Never trouble to deny;
Should the words they say be true,
Weep and storm and swear they lie.

Powered by Vocaroo

Recipe For Happiness

Recipe For Happiness
Khaborovsk Or Anyplace
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand cafe in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups.

One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you.

One fine day.

I wonder about the meaning of the last line. What do you think: Is today a very fine day indeed? Or is Ferlinghetti talking about one fine day in the future when he might experience this idyllic café scene? Is he remembering a day when he was truly happy? Or is he being just slightly sarcastic about this “quick and easy” recipe for happiness? I think it’s completely up to you.

I hadn’t quite made up my mind about what the line meant when I read it for this recording, and you can tell, can’t you? Change the meaning of the line and poem, and your intonation will change, too. So come on, you can do better: First decide what the line means to you, and then read the poem out loud. If you have the means of recording it, please do, and send me the link, ok?