Poem of the Week

An article online about poetry prompted me to find and share this one.

Digging

By Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

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Henri Duchemin and His Shadows

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I discovered this book via Literature-Map.com, which predicted I would like Emmanuel Bove’s writing. Boy, was that first prediction right. I’m now going to read more of the books it suggests.

A modern writer, Emmanuel Bove (1889 – 1945), has been described by Peter Handke as “the poet of the flophouse and the dive, the park bench and the pigeon’s crumb . . . a deeply empathetic writer for whom no defeat is so great as too silence desire.”

A collection of short stories, Henri Dechemin and his Shadows takes us inside the hearts and minds of the narrators. Each is down and out, but also very perceptive and wise.  The narrators navigate shame, homelessness, breaking relationships and infidelity painfully aware in a way that reminded me of Dostoyevsky of their own pain and motivation as well as that of their wife or friend who was causing it. This wisdom didn’t lessen the hurt.

Bove’s style is succinct. He has no verbose descriptions. The gets to the crux of what needs to be said and leaves it at that. I think it made for more powerful stories, though some may disagree. While Bove writes of characters in dire straits, he’s more positive than Sartre or Beckett. Though Bove’s characters have it hard, they often see the positive. They know that tomorrow may be better and there’s hope.

Les Misérables, Ep 2

lily les misLast night was the second episode of the Masterpiece/BBC production of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. I knew what was coming. I knew that Fantine was in for a tough timethis week. Her lover Felix had agandoned her and their baby Cosette and Fantine had no family or skills to support her well.

Last night we saw Madame Thenardier for the first time. Olivia Colman’s portrayal is both lusty as you’d expect, but also more likable because unlike the novel or the films, this Madame Thenardier tells her disreputable husband that he should be more honest because by getting a reputation for honesty, their inn would prosper. He slaps her for this. Later, another character makes the same point. I’m not sure why this production chose to white wash Madam Thenardier’s character when earlier productions succeeded with the character depicted as shown in the book.

As anyone who’s seen the films or read the novel know, in the next chapters Fantine experiences great hardship. She’s truly one of the “Les Misérables.” Though I wanted to be strong, I did have to look away at at one time mute the TV as Fantine’s fate takes a turn for the very worse.

The episode was unstinting in its depiction of Fantine’s fall. In fact the scribbler she uses to read letters from the Thenardier’s treats Fantine horribly suggesting, if not urging her to sell herself and criticizing her for selling her “assets,” i.e. her hair and teeth, before she turned to prostitution because with her cropped hair and toothless smile, she’s a less desirable object . . . . Ugh.

Fantine’s fall is worse than Jean Valjean’s and part of this is due to her extreme naivety. She never questions the Thenardier’s who constantly ask for more money to care for Cosette. She leaves her daughter with absolute strangers, though in this day there were orphanages for children with living parents. That would be the better route. In the book we’re told that Fantine had no parents at all and just grew up wandering about her small town and getting food, clothing and shelter from whoever felt generous. (Not sure why she wasn’t in an orphanage.) So that information explains a lot about why Fantine lacks common sense and has no one, no aunt, cousin, parent, etc. to turn to for help.

Cleaned up and dignified, Jean Valjean has moved upward gaining wealth and power now that his factory is prospering and he’s become mayor. The people love him. But soon Jalvert turns up and recognizes his old prisoner. Naturally Valjean gets nervous, but he remains true to the Bishop. He’s found God and honesty, though he still errors (in terms of firing Fantine, mainly because he didn’t know her full story). This production does a better job than the musical showing how much Valjean agonizes over saving the thief who’s about to die in his place. The musical certainly shows us how easy it would be for Jean Valjean to keep quiet and continue to live his new life, but this drama accentuates the dilemma.

There’s one sequence with Marius as a young boy. Somehow time hasn’t effected him as much as it has Cosette. His growth is a lot slower than hers in the interim between this and last week. Anyway, what struck me was the powered wig he sports and is worn by his grandpa and his cronies. It’s a stark, grandiose contrast to the prosperous Jean Valjean’s hair. I can’t remember if Hugo’s book makes the upperclass this contemptible.

All in all, I’m enjoyed episode 2, though it had some scenes of great suffering that I couldn’t bear. Things are bad, but not this bad in the weeks ahead. I will add that this is not an episode I advise kids watching. It might even be considered R rated for Fantine’s struggles in the streets.

 

Masterpiece: Les Misérables

It’s no secret that Les Misérables is one of my favorite stories of all time. I’ve read the book and seen the musical, the film with Liam Neeson, the film with Jean Gabin and the one with Harry Barr. I’ve loved them all.

I lost track of time and missed the premier of Masterpiece’s newest Les Mis, but fortunately, I taped it and am now ready for episode 2.

Beginning with Thénardier (Adeel Akhtar) robbing the pockets of soldiers killed at Waterloo. As luck would have it, Pontmercy, a solider, wakes up and mistakes Thénardier for a savior. Then in the prison where Jean Val Jean (Dominic West) toils away while being abused, beaten and tricked by the guards and Inspector Javert (David Oyelowo), a 19th century French Pharisee. Early on we also see Pontmercy’s wealthy father-in-law who’s taken custody of his grandson when the boy’s mother died. Vehemently opposed to Pontmercy’s politics, the grandfather forbids Pontmercy to see his own son, Marius, a cutie pie in velvet and frilly collars.

Fantine’s story of meeting Felix, Cossette’s father, this production starts earlier in the book than the musical. We get to see the slimy, philandering Felix who loves and leaves poor, naive Fantine. Interwoven with Fantine’s story, we see Jean Valjean get freed from jail and encounter hostility and injustice till he’s welcome by the saintly Bishop Digne.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the story. It’s a lush production. I always have an odd feeling about computer graphics. I can tell it’s not real (or faux real). I sense something lacking in the vast settings that must be computer graphics.

The story spans decades and contains several plot lines. Victor Hugo dedicated each section of the book according to a main character. The screenwriter has woven several sections together and the chronology’s changed. Some things seem to be simultaneous here, when they weren’t in the book. For example, at the end of episode 1, Fantine’s holding her daughter Cossette, who looks like she is at least a year old. Yet Felix just abandoned her a few hours before. I thought Fantine got pregnant after Felix left her. Also, Jean Valjean has just left the Bishop’s. It seems the timing is off between Fantine, whose story doesn’t need much time to progress to the next stage, and Jean Valjean, who took many years to get to the next point when he’ll meet Fantine.

Even though there are some differences between other productions and these do bother me, the annoyance is small and Les Misérables is a story that can’t be ruined. (Knock on wood.) So far this series is off to a good start.

Weekend Coffee Share

wordswag_15073188796611453091488Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some time catching up with friends (old and new)!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I really wish we’d stop daylight “savings” time. Just pick a time and stick with it the way they do in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Mali, Singapore,India and many more. The whole change makes me feel off-kilter for a week or so.

I’d tell you that I got to spend some time with my friend Kristi who lives in France and her tween-age son, who’s developing a more laconic, slightly “too cool for school attitude.” Kristi’s a bit shocked at the metamorphosis as her son was so chatty and upbeat. Now there’s a twinge of sarcasm and that common embarrassment to be around his mom, even when she’s buying him new Nikes. Is this inevitable or can parents limit this negativity?

I’m enthralled with the online course on the U.S. Constitution put out by Hillsdale. Today I watched the lecture on Legislature & Regulation. In a nutshell while the framers of the constitution spelled out the process for creating law, when the Progressives added administrative lawmaking to the constitution via agencies, they didn’t specify how the agencies should create regulations. As you’d guess this led to several problems and trips to the Supreme Court.

Princess Margaret 4

I’m missing Masterpiece’s Victoria. There’s a little void, but I think I’ll catch up on the Doctor Who episodes, I forgot I recorded. I did watch a documentary called The Rebel Princess about Princess Margaret. A lot of what it showed was in The Crown. I wonder how Queen Victoria would deal with Princess Margaret.

Outside the weather’s warming up a little, but it’s so ugly with the brown grass, leafless trees and dirty snow. I know this isn’t a popular view, but I wish we’d get another snowfall to make things look prettier.

I am fascinated by the Literature Map which enables people to discover new authors they’re likely to like through this website.

I just finished Bill Bryson’s The Sunburned Country. If that doesn’t make you want to pack your bags and head Downunder, I don’t know what would.