literature

Vernon Watkins: a second visit

September 25, 2020 1 Comment
Vernon Watkins: a second visit

This year’s Haf Bach Mihangel, the forecasters say, will come to an abrupt end tomorrow, on the autumn equinox.  But today’s a perfect day: hot, with sunshine from dawn to dusk, and only the slightest of breezes.  I’m walking the coast to Oxwich.  After climbing out of Pwll Du Head the path is easy going, […]

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Emily Dickinson’s ‘What care the Dead’

July 24, 2020 3 Comments
Emily Dickinson’s ‘What care the Dead’

When I’m distracted or glum I often reach for the poems of Emily Dickinson. I’ve an old copy of Thomas H. Johnson’s complete edition, published in this country by Faber.  It’s less of a book and more of a box.  With its stocky build and 770 pages it looks like a box of postcards.  You […]

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Chaos describ’d

June 19, 2020 0 Comments
Chaos describ’d

These days chaos as a concept has been captured by mathematics and physics. (Sometimes it gets re-exported to the popular imagination through tropes like the butterfly effect.)  But before that it was available to anyone.  It was especially attractive to philosophers, theologians and mystics, and to creative people like writers and artists. Chaos has always […]

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Cymru a W.G. Sebald

June 12, 2020 0 Comments
Cymru a W.G. Sebald

Cyhoeddodd W.G. Sebald Austerlitz, ei nofel olaf (os mai nofel yw hi) yn Almaeneg yn 2001.  Pan ddaeth y fersiwn Saesneg allan yn 2002, roedd yn syndod i ddarllenwyr yma i ddarganfod mai Cymru yw un o’i phrif leoliadau, mewn llyfr sy’n crwydro dros rannau helaeth o gyfandir Ewrop.  Hanes dyn o’r enw Jacques Austerlitz […]

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On sparrows

May 15, 2020 0 Comments
On sparrows

Obituaries lift the heart.  They’re the part of any newspaper or magazine to turn to first if you want to cheer yourself up by reading about the positive side of human nature.  At the moment, when the news pages resemble an unending nightmare by Hieronymus Bosch, that’s especially true.  Last week I read on Twitter […]

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‘Reports of my death’: the many lives of Jean Rhys

April 25, 2020 1 Comment
‘Reports of my death’: the many lives of Jean Rhys

False news is now so natural a part of our world that few people are surprised to read about the deaths of people who remain stubbornly alive.  There are plenty of examples, many of them recent.  Wikipedia lists over 300 in one of its more amusing pages, List of premature obituaries. The ‘reported death’ people […]

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Lludd and the three plagues

March 30, 2020 2 Comments
Lludd and the three plagues

Lludd, son of Beli Mawr (‘Lud’ in English) is king of the Island of Britain, and a wise and successful ruler.  From his capital, Caer Lludd (London), he takes care of his subjects, housing them well and supplying them with ample food and drink.  One of his brothers, Llefelys, is king of France.  So begins […]

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Grass for pillow: early Japanese travel poems

February 29, 2020 0 Comments
Grass for pillow: early Japanese travel poems

Last year Penguin published a selection of classical Japanese writings about travel.  Travels with a writing brush, edited by the Australian translator Meredith McKinney, didn’t receive much attention at the time, but it’s a wonderful and wonderfully varied introduction to poetry and prose written in Japan between the seventh and seventeenth centuries.  For anyone who’s […]

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Laura Cumming and Degas’ ‘The Bellilli Family’

February 22, 2020 1 Comment
Laura Cumming and Degas’ ‘The Bellilli Family’

Many people have praised Laura Cumming’s book On Chapel Sands: my mother and other missing persons (Chatto & Windus, 2019).  It begins, like a novel, with a sudden disappearance: of her three-year-old mother, in summer 1929, from a sunny beach on the Lincolnshire coast.  Like a detective story it pieces together what happened, and tries […]

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Down the rabbit hole: an early example from Gower

January 31, 2020 0 Comments
Down the rabbit hole: an early example from Gower

Alice’s adventures in Wonderland – in Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript it was entitled Alice’s adventures under ground – is probably the best-known of all tales about a child passing through a hole or tunnel in the ground to reach another world populated by strange, small creatures.  It’s a common motif in fairy stories around the […]

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