Authors on Authors

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

Long, long ago, not long after I started this blog, I published a list of authors  whom my favorite authors had pointed to as influences on their work. It was just lists of names, nothing more than that. So today, I’d like to update and expand upon some of those entries, guided by the words of the writers themselves.

Seamus Heaney

Ted Hughes

The fact of the matter is that the most unexpected and miraculous thing in my life was the arrival in it of poetry itself—as a vocation and an elevation almost. I began as a school teacher in Belfast in 1962. I taught for one year in St. Thomas’s Secondary Intermediate School. I had a good degree in English at Queen’s University and felt that I had some literary possibility, but I had no real confidence. . . . My pseudonym at Queen’s, in the magazines where I published, was Incertus—Latin for uncertain—I was just kicking the ball around the penalty area, not trying to shoot at the goal. Then in 1962 the current began to flow. I remember taking down Ted Hughes’s Lupercal from the shelves of the Belfast public library and opening it at “View of a Pig,” and immediately going off and writing a couple of poems that were Hughes pastiches almost. The first one was called “Tractors”; I remember a line that said “they gargled sadly”—which pleased me a lot at the time. So I sent it out to the Belfast Telegraph—not the greatest literary journal in the world, but even so, it published that poem. And that was of immense importance because I knew no one at the paper, which meant that the thing had been accepted on its own merits, such as they were. [From The Paris Review‘s “Art of Poetry” series.]

On first discovering Gerard Manley Hopkins as a student in Catholic school:

It was a matter of sensation, little ricochets and chain reactions within the nervous system. Like “As tumbled over rim in roundy wells / Stones ring” or “rose-moles all in stipple upon the trout that swim; / Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings.” I once said it was like getting verbal gooseflesh. And, naturally enough, when I wrote my first poems as an undergraduate a few years later, I wrote in Hopkins-speak.

What you encounter in Hopkins’s journals—the claustrophobia and scrupulosity and religious ordering of the mind, the cold-water shaves and the single iron beds, the soutanes and the self-denial—that was the world I was living in when I first read his poems.

So yes, you’re right that it wasn’t simply a matter of the phonetics taking over, it wasn’t just the fireworks in phrases like “shining from shook foil.” It was the fact that the height and depth of Hopkins’s understanding matched my own. [From Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, pages 37 and 38.]

R. S. Thomas

When I read him first, I enjoyed the self-conscious element in the writing—very artful versification, slight affectation of direction, a touch of Crowe Ransom fastidiousness. But what made him especially attractive was the fact that a potential dandy was being suppressed by a very strict, very frugal censor. And then there was the sheer familiarity of his subject matter in those Welsh hill-farm poems. . . . He got very far as a poet, a loner taking on the universe, a kind of Clint Eastwood of the spirit. Every bit as unsmiling as Clint, but in either case you couldn’t be sure there wasn’t really a wild comedian lurking in there somewhere. [Stepping Stones, pages 112 and 113.]

C. S. Lewis

G. K. Chesterton

It was here [in an army hospital during World War I] that I first read a volume of Chesterton’s essays. I had never heard of him and had no idea of what he stood for; nor can I quite understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me. It might have been expected that my pessimism, my atheism, and my hatred of sentiment would have made him to me the least congenial of all authors. It would almost seem that Providence, or some “second cause” of a very obscure kind, quite overrules our previous tastes when it decides to bring two minds together. Liking an author may be as involuntary and improbable as falling in love. I was by now a sufficiently experienced reader to distinguish liking from agreement. I did not need to accept what Chesterton said in order to enjoy it. His humor was of the kind which I like best—not “jokes” embedded in the page like currants in a cake, still less (what I cannot endure) a general tone of flippancy and jocularity, but the humor which is not in any way separable from the argument but is rather (as Aristotle would say) the “bloom” on dialectic itself. The sword glitters not because the swordsman set out to make it glitter but because he is fighting for his life and therefore moving it very quickly. For the critics who think Chesterton frivolous or “paradoxical” I have to work hard to feel even pity; sympathy is out of the question. [Surprised by Joy, pages 190-191]

Ray Bradbury

Read almost any interview with Ray Bradbury and you’ll probably find at least a dozen mentions of writers whose work he loved. One of his favorite ideas to return to was “the train,” which he described in an interview with The Paris Review in 1976 (republished here):

Bradbury: A conglomerate heap of trash, that’s what I am. But it burns with a high flame. I’ve had my “literary loves,” too. I like to think of myself on a train going across midnight America conversing with my favorite authors, and on that train would be people like George Bernard Shaw, who was interested in everything, interested in the fiction of ideas. He himself on occasion wrote things that could be dubbed “science fiction.” We’d sit up late into the night turning over ideas and saying, “Well, if this is true about women in 1900, what is it going to be in the year 2050?”

Interviewer: Who else would be on that train?

Bradbury: A lot of poets. Hopkins, Frost, Shakespeare. And then writers like Huxley, Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe.

Interviewer: How has Wolfe helped you?

Bradbury: He was a great romantic. When you’re nineteen, he opens the doors of the world for you. We use certain authors at certain times of our lives, and we may never go back to them again. Wolfe is perfect when you’re nineteen. If you fall in love with Shaw when you’re thirty it’s going to be a lifetime love. And I think that’s true of certain books by Thomas Mann as well. I read Death in Venice when I was twenty, and it’s gotten better every year since. Style is truth. Once you nail down what you want to say about yourself and your fears and your life, then that becomes your style and you go to those writers who can teach you how to use words to fit your truth. I learned from John Steinbeck how to write objectively and yet insert all of the insights without too much extra comment. I learned a hell of a lot from John Collier and Gerald Heard, and I fell madly in love with a number of women writers, especially Eudora Welty and Katherine Anne Porter. I still go back and reread Edith Wharton and Jessamyn WestThe Friendly Persuasion is one of my favorite books of short stories.

Or sometimes, he didn’t need the prompting of an interview to come up with a list of favorite authors. From his essay collection Zen in the Art of Writing:

You have your list of favorite writers; I have mine. Dickens, Twain, Wolfe, Peacock, Shaw, Molière, Jonson, Wycherly, Sam Johnson. Poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Pope. … Think of all these names and you think of big or little, but nonetheless important, zests, appetites, hungers. Think of Shakespeare and Melville and you think of thunder, lightning, wind. [“The Joy of Writing,” pages 3-4]

Bookish Links — August 2017

Image by Asgeir Pall Juliusson.

Out of the starless night of the Uncreated, that was before the stars, a soul begins to grope back to light. It gropes its way through strange, half-lighted chambers of Dreams, where in a brown and gold twilight, it sees many things that are dimly significant, true stories twisted into new and amazing shapes, human beings whom it knew long ago, sitting at the windows by dark sunsets, or talking in dim meadows. But the awful invading Light grows stronger in the dreams, till the soul in one last struggle, plunges into a body, as into a house and wakes up within it. Then he rises and finds himself in a wonderful vast world of white light and clear, frankly coloured shapes, an inheritor of a million stars. On enquiry he is informed that his name is Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

This amuses him.

  • And finally, readers are rediscovering what our great-great-grandparents knew years ago—memorizing poetry is awesome: “You can’t express your ineffable yearnings for a world that is not quite what you thought it was going to be until you’ve memorized three or four poems that give you the words to begin.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Valentine’s Day Edition


Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

With Valentine’s Day coming up this Sunday, the girls at The Broke and the Bookish decided to make this week’s “Top Ten Tuesday” a Valentine’s Day-themed free-for-all. And since I’ve been looking for an opportunity to talk about poetry anyway, I decided to take advantage of this week’s topic to write a list of favorite love poems (in no particular order).

1: “Glanmore Sonnets, X” by Seamus Heaney

I won’t say this poem is perfect, but it is a Seamus Heaney sonnet, so it’s pretty darn close.

2: “When You Are Old” by W. B. Yeats

Perhaps a little cliché by now, but that matters not a whit: it’s still one of my favorites by Yeats, as well as the poem that made me fall in love with his work in the first place.

3: “Innocence” by Patrick Kavanagh

Granted, this isn’t a usual love poem, because it’s about love of a place rather than love of a person. But as Kavanagh himself said in a different poem, “nothing whatever is by love debarred.”

4:  “If You Were Coming in the Fall” by Emily Dickinson

Like most everyone else it seems, I cut my poetic teeth on short little poems by Dickinson. This one was and still is one of my favorites from her.

5: “The Otter” by Seamus Heaney

Ordinary poets might compare their beloved to a bird, maybe, or perhaps a deer: extraordinary poets, however, can compare their wives to otters and get away with it. Heaney was one such extraordinary poet.

6: “The Sun Rising” by John Donne

Somehow, I don’t think I can write a post about love poetry and not include something by Donne.

7: “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet

Another poet I would be remiss not to mention is Anne Bradstreet. She was one of my first favorite poets, and this poem in particular has stuck with me ever since I first read it years ago.

8: “For Annie” by Edgar Allan Poe
Sure, it’s dark and morbid as only Poe can be, but I still love it for its musicality (and for the irony of writing a love poem about death).

9: “If You Came” by Ruth Pitter

I’ve just started to dip into Ruth Pitter’s work, but this poem in particular strikes me with the depth of feeling that its seeming simplicity belies.

10: “Creation Day” by G. K. Chesterton

Last but by no means least, we have this lovely quatern that our very own Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote to his wife Frances shortly after they were married in 1901.


What about you? Do you have any favorite love poems? Any favorite poems of any sort? Let me know in the comments.

Bookish Links — December 2015

Christmas Morning by Carl Larsson - Copy
“Christmas Morning” by Carl Larsson. Image via Wikiart.
  • I’m not really sure what to make of this article about a French novelist who faked his entire autobiography and pretended to be an imaginary person so that he could win the same award two years in a row, but I’m going to leave it right here anyway.
  • Last week, Sørina Higgins‘s Christmas present to everyone was a (fictional) story about Charles Williams and C. S. Lewis going on an impromptu road trip. They talked Romantic Theology, they debated the nature of the Arthurian legends, Williams flirted with a barmaid, and the whole thing was recorded on the @Oddest_Inkling Twitter account. You can find the compendium of those tweets here.

That’s all for now. Happy New Year, everybody!

Poem: “The House of Christmas”

Merry Christmas, all you darling people.

“The House of Christmas”

by G. K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Poem of the Week: “Evening”

As far as I know, this poem was never published during Chesterton’s lifetime: he wrote it down in a notebook somewhere when he was about 21 and kept it to himself. True, it’s not as intricate as Chesterton’s later poems and the style seems quite unlike him, but for whatever reason, I think this might be my favorite Chesterton poem.


by G. K. Chesterton

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?


Bookish Links: September 2015

Image via Pixabay.
Image via Pixabay.







Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books on My Fall “To Be Read” List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

1 & 2: Surprised by Joy and The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis

I bought these two on impulse about a week ago. The Weight of Glory still sits in its pretty cream-colored Barnes and Noble bag, while I’ve already started on Surprised by Joy. Autobiography is one of my favorite genres, so I really couldn’t pass up an autobiography of one of my favorite authors.

3: Hamlet by William Shakespeare

I will be re-reading this in conjunction with “Hamlette” of the blog The Edge of the Precipice. Starting October 1, she’ll be reading and posting about the play a scene at a time and holding discussions about the story, the characters, Shakespeare, etc. Depending on how those conversations go, you might see a few Hamlet-related posts here in the month of October.

4: Joy by Abigail Santamaria

What? Did you think I was going to miss the first full-length biography of C. S. Lewis’s oft-overlooked wife? Not a chance!

5 & 6: Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

I had said that I was going to read Dandelion Wine this summer, but for a multitude of reasons, that didn’t happen. Instead, I’m pushing it back to fall and planning to follow it up with its sequel.

7: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

A new Macbeth adaptation is coming out this December (or this October, if you live in the UK), so before I see this play on film again, I’d really like to have read it myself.

8: The Innocence of Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton

I’ve already read a few of these short stories, as I’ve mentioned before, and I’m really looking forward to rounding out the collection.

9: The Tempest by William Shakespeare

I suppose fall is the season of Shakespeare for me. 🙂 I’ve been rather eager to read this play, as it’s one of Shakespeare’s plays that I know the least about and is also one of only three Shakespearian plays to feature an original plot. (All of the others besides Love Labors Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were based either on historical events or on a previously written story. Can you believe that?)

10: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

There’s really no reason why I ought to read this again, other than I want to and I love it. That seems like reason enough.

What about you? What books are you planning to read this fall? Have you read any of these already? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

The Time Neil Gaiman Invented a G. K. Chesterton Quote

All this talk of quotations puts me in mind of a very famous one, supposedly by G. K. Chesterton. No doubt you’ve seen it floating around Pinterest, Twitter, etc. by now:

Source: Pinterest
Source: Pinterest.

It certain sounds like Chesterton, and it’s in line with things he did say, but it’s not Chesterton. It is in fact the work of another author of fantastical prose, Mr. Neil Gaiman.

To be fair, Gaiman was basically saying the same thing Chesterton had said, just in fewer words. In his essay “The Red Angel,” Chesterton wrote:

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Around seventy years later, Gaiman decided to use this quote as an epigram in his novel Coraline. The only problem was he couldn’t remember how it went. As he explained to a curious fan on Tumblr:

Gaiman in 2009 (with an unidentified dog). Photo by Kyle Cassidy.
Gaiman in 2009 (with an unidentified dog). Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

When I started writing Coraline, I wrote my version of the quote in Tremendous Trifles, meaning to go back later and find the actual quote, as I didn’t own the book, and this was before the Internet. And then ten years went by before I finished the book, and in the meantime I had completely forgotten that the Chesterton quote was mine and not his.

I had always wondered how quotes ended up being attributed to people who never said them. Apparently, that’s how.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Poems for the Newcomer

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s prompt is “Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101 (examples: YA fantasy 101, feminist literature 101, magic in YA 101, classic YA lit 101, world-building 101).”

Well, I’m not interested in YA, I’ve never read anything approximating “feminist literature,” and I just barely know what “world-building” is. Really, poetry is one of the few literary topics on which I feel semi-confident. So here we are.

Of course, I’ve never really tried to teach poetry to anyone else, so all I can go by is which poems helped me to understand poetry the best.

1: “Methought I saw my late espoused saint” by John Milton

I think I can safely say that this poem, Milton’s 23rd sonnet, is what got me to start caring about poetry in the first place. For once, I was able to get a sense of what the poet was feeling as he wrote, something I had thought largely impossible in a form as strict and arbitrary as the sonnet. The paradox Milton poses in the last line also amazed me quite a bit, to the point where I began to wonder if there was something to this poetry business after all. I know there are better sonnets out there, but none have affected me as much as this one.

2: “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden

If Milton was my introduction to traditional verse, it was Auden who gave me an appreciation for more modern forms of verse. This poem is written in a very informal free verse style, but when you pay attention what Auden is saying and how he says it, it’s actually pretty clever, despite its lack of formal structure.

3: “The Donkey” by G. K. Chesterton

Like Milton’s poem, this one showed me what poetry can do. Something about the way Chesterton waits until the last line to reveal his main subject–and until then, builds a whimsical-sounding riddle around it–made me eager to read more from him and from all of the other poets I had been neglecting.

4: “The Destruction of Sennacherib” by Lord Byron

This poem has it all: rollicking anapestic tetrameter, rousing themes of battle and triumph, and alliteration to the rafters. Even before I really “got” poetry, I still loved this one.

5: “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

The Raven - Nevermore - Gustave Dore
Illustration by Gustave Doré

No one less than a poetic god could write something like this. Since the rhythm of the poem adds so much to the spooky atmosphere, this one is perfect for demonstrating what a careful meter can do. Plus, it’s tremendously fun to read.

6: “Desdichado” by Dorothy L. Sayers

These days, Dorothy Sayers is known best as a mystery writer, and sometimes as an essayist, but nevertheless, her poems are breathtaking. Like “The Destruction of Sennacherib” and “The Raven,” this poem has a fun, musical sort of rhythm to it, one that showcases the beauty and artistry that goes into writing old-style poems.

7: “When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats

Sketch of Yeats by John Singer Sargent
Sketch of Yeats by John Singer Sargent

Simple, true, and beautiful, just as a poem should be. Since half the power of poetry is its ability to say much in a few words, I think this one is perfect for bringing the evocative nature of poetry to the fore.

8: “On Being Asked for a War Poem” by William Butler Yeats

Since this is a poem about poetry, I found it very useful for understanding the rationale behind writing poems, as well as the way poets find the balance between the hubris of Percy Shelley (who said that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”) on one side and the pessimism of W. H. Auden (who said that “Poetry makes nothing happen”) on the other.

9: “In the Old Age of the Soul” by Ezra Pound

Once, after being assigned to write a free verse poem in school, it occurred to me that I had read almost no free verse poetry in my life. I then followed my teacher’s advice and looked up some free verse poems to give me an idea of what I was working toward. I downloaded Pound’s first published book Personae from Project Gutenberg and not only did it make free verse click for me, but I also found this little gem which I have loved ever since. The metaphors, the imagery, and the brief but beautiful language of this poem make it a wonderful introduction to free verse.

10: “A Little Lightning” by Aaron Belz

Here’s the thing about this poem: unlike most of the ones on this list, it’s terribly modern. Meaning, it was first published this year. Normally, I have little interest in such poems, but this one is actually wonderful. Since a poetry class would have to cover the latest trends in poetry as well, I would hold up this poem as an example of what ought to be done in modern poetry.

How G. K. Chesterton Changed My Mind about Detective Stories

I try to stay open to books in genres and styles that I don’t often read, but one genre that I routinely avoid is the mystery genre. Part of my problem with mystery stories is that they’re almost impossible to read more than once, and part of it is that very few of the mysteries I have read have really grabbed me. I tried the Nancy Drew series as a young girl and had to force myself through the last half of The Secret of the Old Clock. I started to read The Bungalow Mystery hoping to have better luck with that one–I read about three chapters and then promptly forgot about it. Even Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie failed to keep me interested long enough to find out who the killer was. I had all but given up on mystery stories until recently, when I took a peek inside G. K. Chesterton’s The Innocence of Father Brown.

Guys, I might have finally found a detective that I like.

Image via
Image via Top Meadow

If you haven’t heard of him, Father Brown is a fictional priest/detective who made his first appearance in 1910.* He’s the star of dozens of Chesterton stories, four of which I have read and can heartily recommend.

Part of what I like about these stories is those great poetic descriptions Chesterton loves: his “dark violet distances” and his “diamonds that seemed to set the very air on fire all round them” suite my taste for ornate prose very well.

Another part of it is the humor: not that the characters are constantly saying funny things (although they do that sometimes too), but rather, the stories I’ve read have the air of a farce while also remaining serious, if that’s possible. The situations are so bizarre and they are described in such a light, almost playful sort of way that you can’t help but laugh. In many ways, these stories remind me of the venerable P. G. Wodehouse.

Last but not least, we have Father Brown himself: unlike most fictional detectives, who use science or their uncanny powers of observation to solve crimes, Father Brown relies instead on his knowledge of human nature, garnered through years of serving both the highest and the lowest in society. I suppose part of my beef with detective fiction has to do with its tendency to focus on events, locations, and methods rather than on characters. Because this detective makes the person the main object of his investigations, I received him much more warmly than I ever did Nancy Drew or Hercule Poirot. Besides, he has none of the arrogance that other famous fictional detectives (Sherlock Holmes, for example) possess. He’s kindly and agreeable, but also self-effacing: despite being brilliant enough to solve crimes that have even the police baffled, he never takes himself very seriously. Since hubris seems to be a hallmark of fictional detectives, this one is a breath of fresh air.

So far, I’ve only read the first four stories in the book: “The Blue Cross,” “The Secret Garden,” “The Queer Feet,” and “The Flying Stars.” I do plan to round out the collection (heaven knows when, though), so watch out for that review. 😉

* That places him twenty-three years after the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes and ten years before Hercule Poirot.

Poem of the Week: “Mediaevalism”

"Man in Armor" by Rembrandt van Rijn. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
“Man in Armor” by Rembrandt van Rijn. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

What do you mean I post too much G. K. Chesterton? IS there such a thing as too much G. K. Chesterton?!


by G. K. Chesterton

If men should rise and return to the noise and time of the tourney,
The name and fame of the tabard, the tangle of gules and gold,
Would these things stand and suffice for the bourne of a backward journey,
A light on our days returning, as it was in the days of old?

Nay, there is none rides back to pick up a glove or a feather,
Though the gauntlet rang with honour or the plume was more than a crown:
And hushed is the holy trumpet that called the nations together
And under the Horns of Hattin the hope of the world went down.

Ah, not in remembrance stored, but out of oblivion starting,
Because you have sought new homes and all that you sought is so,
Because you had trodden the fire and barred the door in departing,
Returns in your chosen exile the glory of long ago.

Not then when you barred the door, not then when you trod the embers,
But now, at your new road’s end, you have seen the face of a fate,
That not as a child looks back, and not as a fool remembers,
All that men took too lightly and all that they love too late.

It is you that have made no rubric for saints, no raiment for lovers,
Your caps that cry for a feather, your roofs that sigh for a spire:
Is it a dream from the dead if your own decay discovers
Alive in your rotting graveyard the worm of the world’s desire?

Therefore the old trees tower, that the green trees grow and are stunted:
Therefore these dead men mock you, that you the living are dead:
Since ever you battered the saints and the tools of your crafts were blunted,
Or shattered the glass in its glory and loaded yourselves with the lead.

When the usurer hunts the squire as the squire has hunted the peasant,
As sheep that are eaten of worms where men were eaten of sheep:
Now is the judgment of earth, and the weighing of past and present,
Who scorn to weep over ruins, behold your ruin and weep.

Have ye not known, ye fools, that have made the present a prison,
That thirst can remember water and hunger remember bread?
We went not gathering ghosts; but the shriek of your shame is arisen
Out of your own black Babel too loud; and it woke the dead.