“Like a breath of wind over my soul”: Thoughts on Chekhov’s “The Beauties”

For a number of reasons, my reading lately has tended away from fiction. Where I used to breeze through a new novel at least every month, now I’m struggling to finish the ones I start. I’m too easily distracted by all the new poetry and nonfiction that I want to read instead. But one fictionContinue reading ““Like a breath of wind over my soul”: Thoughts on Chekhov’s “The Beauties””

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“Glanmore Sonnets, X” by Seamus Heaney

I dreamt we slept in a moss in Donegal
On turf banks under blankets, with our faces
Exposed all night in a wetting drizzle,
Pallid as the dripping sapling birches.
Lorenzo and Jessica in a cold climate.
Diarmuid and Grainne waiting to be found.
Darkly asperged and censed, we were laid out
Like breathing effigies on a raised ground.
And in that dream I dreamt—how like you this?—
Our first night years ago in that hotel
When you came with your deliberate kiss
To raise us towards the lovely and painful
Covenants of flesh; our separateness;
The respite in our dewy dreaming faces.

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“Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski

There are some poets who, no matter how many great poems they write, are always associated with one particular work. That work becomes their signature, the poem that even non-poetry readers know them for. For Seamus Heaney, it was “Digging,” for Gwendolyn Brooks, it was “We Real Cool” (which is actually a work of virtuosicContinue reading ““Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski”

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Why Macbeth‘s Birnam Wood Prophecy Actually Works

In case I hadn’t mentioned it here before, I love Macbeth. Passionately. It’s my favorite Shakespeare play (other than Hamlet) and its main character is one of my favorite protagonists in all of literature. In spite of that, I can understand why a lot of people dislike it: it’s pretty dark and violent, even forContinue reading “Why Macbeth‘s Birnam Wood Prophecy Actually Works”

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“Mary Magdalen and I” by Czesław Miłosz

As you might have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with Czesław Miłosz’s poetry. One poem in particular that I keep returning to is “Mary Magdalen and I,” translated by Miłosz and Robert Hass: The seven unclean spirits of Mary Magdalen Chased from her by the Teacher with his prayer Hover inContinue reading ““Mary Magdalen and I” by Czesław Miłosz”

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On Yeats’s “Mongan Thinks of His Past Greatness”

While I’m devoting an entire month to Irish literature, I thought I’d talk about one of my favorite Irish poems, W. B. Yeats’s “Mongan Thinks of His Past Greatness.” It’s not a very popular poem, for reasons which will become clear in a minute. Nevertheless, it was one of the first Yeats poems I everContinue reading “On Yeats’s “Mongan Thinks of His Past Greatness””

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What Makes a Poem “Good”: a Completely Unbiased Investigation

If you’ve spent any amount of time around BookTube, you probably know already who Jen Campbell is. In case you don’t, she’s an author, poet, and book blogger based in the UK. Some weeks ago, she posted a video in which she posed this question to her viewers: “What makes a poem ‘good’?” It’s an interesting question,Continue reading “What Makes a Poem “Good”: a Completely Unbiased Investigation”

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Are Song Lyrics Poems?

Along with much of the rest of the world, I woke up Thursday morning to the news that Bob Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” While I’m not sure if Dylan would have been my first choice for the award, IContinue reading “Are Song Lyrics Poems?”

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“A spirit of health or goblin damned”

The Hamlet read-along is still underway, and as expected, it’s given me plenty of opportunities to consider the play from different angles. Almost since the beginning of this read-along, one question in particular has nagged at me: is the ghost really who he says he is? On my first reading of Hamlet, I pretty muchContinue reading ““A spirit of health or goblin damned””

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“Why is Hamlet’s father also named ‘Hamlet’?”

About a week ago, my younger brother asked me quite earnestly why Hamlet and his father have the same name. When I read Hamlet, it never occurred to me that the double name could have any special significance: after all, it was common enough in the Middle Ages and afterward for sons to be namedContinue reading ““Why is Hamlet’s father also named ‘Hamlet’?””

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In Defense of the Imperfect Characters

Back when I first started this blog, I posted an article responding to the mistaken notion that exceptionally good, upstanding heroes in literature are detrimental to readers. I’m finding now that it seems an equally passionate faction has the opposite complaint: they fret that characters in literature aren’t perfect enough. ~ I read a lotContinue reading “In Defense of the Imperfect Characters”

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Shakespeare and Censorship

You probably know by now how I feel about Shakespeare. You probably also know how I feel about censorship. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when I hear of someone censoring Shakespeare, I tend to take notice. The latest example comes from Mark Rylance, an actor and former artistic director for the GlobeContinue reading “Shakespeare and Censorship”

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