Poem of the Week

Written on a Summer Evening

By John Keats

The church bells toll a melancholy round,
Calling the people to some other prayers,
Some other gloominess, more dreadful cares,
More harkening to the sermon’s horrid sound.
Surely the mind of man is closely bound
In some blind spell: seeing that each one tears
Himself from fireside joys and Lydian airs,
And converse high of those with glory crowned.
Still, still they toll, and I should feel a damp,
A chill as from a tomb, did I not know
That they are dying like an outburnt lamp, –
That ’tis their sighing, wailing, ere they go
Into oblivion -that fresh flowers will grow,
And many glories of immortal stamp.

Advertisements

Poem of the Week

When I am dead, my dearest

By Christina Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

The Old Wives’ Tale

a3fba127a3076a6465b57e6895a575ef“. . . humanity walks ever on a thin crust over terrific abysses.”

I’d never heard of Arnold Bennett or his novel The Old Wives’ Tale till my friend chose it for us to read and discuss. The Old Wives’ Tale focuses on two sisters in Northern England in the fictional “Five Towns” area. The oldest Constance is a practical, predictable yet strong woman, while Sophia is a vivacious beauty who pushes all the boundaries.

Their mother is much like Constance and faithful to conventions. Their father is bedridden, which means the family’s welfare depends on the mother running the business, a drapery store.

The story starts with the girls in their teens. Despite their different personalities, they get along for the most part. Sophia yearns for romance and excitement, while Constance is satisfied with working in the family store and living a standard middle class life. When their father dies and Sophia runs off with a dapper traveling salesman, the story takes off.

A keen observer, Bennett fills the novel with insights that make readers think, “Yes, people are like that, even today.” Although there are many stories of bourgeois life or of the prodigal who runs off, Bennett’s characters experience surprises till the bitter end. His characters, even minor ones, are alive and worthy of respect and sympathy. I’m happy to say I’ve found another author I’ll read more of.

The Wings of the Dove

th

It seems like I’ve been grudging through The Wings of the Dove by Henry James forever. Every summer and winter my friend Bill and I read a classic novel and discuss it online. Our last book was Zola’s Germinal, which was full of blood, sweat and tears. James’ writing is the opposite in every way imaginable. Zola was earthy and real. James is ethereal and intellectual. Zola crafted characters with whom I sympathized, even his villains had their reasons and adversity. I don’t like a single character in The Wings of the Dove.

I haven’t finished and though I’m just 30 pages from the finish line and have now given myself permission to skim, I dread my daily reading. The situation in Wings of the Dove is that Kate Croy can’t marry her love Merton Densher because he’s too poor. She lives with a rich aunt who’s going to marry her off well. When Milly, an orphaned American heiress with a terminal mystery disease arrives, Kate plots to get her lover to cozy up to Milly. She figures if Milly leaves Densher her fortune, then after Milly dies, which hopefully will be soon, Kate and Densher can marry. How charming.

It bugged me that we never know what Milly has. If it’s in the book it’s hidden amongst the long-winded writing that includes few concrete description. James wanted to convey the psychology of his vapid characters. I could not care less about what they thought. Also, I don’t think he succeeded in conveying true consciousness since most the time when I’m thinking, my mind is wandering. I may think about a work situation when I’m bored in a conversation or unable to listen at church. Whenever we’re privy to Kate or Milly or some other characters’ thoughts, they’re in the situation.

I thought Densher was weak, and hence unattractive, for buying into this insipid plot. I’d say the same for Kate, who didn’t realize her plan might not go as she figured. Had she never heard the cliché, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”? Evidently not. Milly seemed like a will o’the wisp who floats through the story allowing herself to naively be taken advantage of.

I thought watching the movie would make reading easier or the characters more sympathetic, but it didn’t. I didn’t like the movie much either. While I read, I often just plowed through content to miss a lot. Sometimes I’d consult a reference on the story to see if I was missing something, but my take on the chapters captured all the key events.

I can’t wait to read something else. I know some people must love James or his work  wouldn’t be considered classic, but I don’t care for him at all.

Zzzzzzzz.

What Circle of Hell does George Belong in?

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 5.24.23 PM

Wedding Bliss? Not for Morwenna

This week’s Poldark was full of action; many events were sad or troubling. We saw George slink lower and lower as he worried about not rising politically. When things didn’t go his way, he made sure others suffered.

Aunt Agatha was happily planning her 100th birthday party. Simultaneously, George was worrying about getting invited to the right parties and the social notice that would assure his rise in politics. While fussing about invitations he and Agatha exchanged pointed dialog that makes Violet of Downton Abbey sound demure.

When George and Elizabeth are invited to Sir Falmouth’s party, he is ecstatic to get offered the candidacy for Parliament though he’s unaware that he was Falmouth’s second choice. Ross was the first, but he foolishly refused, because he didn’t want to be Falmouth’s puppet. So Ross learned nothing from Drake’s narrow escape from the hangman’s noose, which Ross would have ruled against if he were the magistrate rather than George. Ross’ problem is he thinks there’s some perfect world out there. Not so. He still isn’t learning that if good men don’t participate in government evil ones like George will. Besides, if you’re not keen on government, you have nothing to lose. Vote as you like and if Falmouth plots to get you out after one term, so be it, Ross. To no avail, Demelza tried to convince Ross to accept the offer.

Seems I forgot about George, when the last paragraph should have been all about him. I’m afraid that’s the story of his life. Once Ross appears, all eyes are on him and George is neglected.

Dwight and Caroline made their marriage official by getting married publicly.  The reception was more about everyone else’s intrigues than the couple’s bliss. Since they eloped that’s fine. Hugh Armitage doted on Demelza as Ross, like an old married man, feels it’s no big deal. She’s just imagining Hugh’s adoration. I will say that since Ross saved Hugh’s life pursuing his wife is in poor taste and judgment. This doesn’t stop him from writing Demelza poetry. Another red flag that Ross dismisses.

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 6.00.47 PM

Back at Trenwith, George gets even with Aunt Agatha, for unknown reasons, he gets a feeling she’s not 99. So he has his servants turn the house upside down looking for evidence. In the end he finds a family Bible that proves she’s only 98. Agatha begs him to keep quiet. It was sad to see this strong woman weaken and beg George. He won’t have it. He cancels the party and for once must be “perfectly honest.”

She’s devastated not to have a party. She begs George, but he enjoys inflicting pain. To get revenge, she tells George that Valentine certainly wasn’t born early. He does not look like a preemie. How could that be? He knows he and Elizabeth waited till the honeymoon so . . . if Aunt Agatha’s right? Who’s the father? A seed has been planted, just before Aunt Agatha dies. She’ll be sorely missed. (Here’s a good interview with the actress who played Aunt Agatha.)

Morwenna lives the life of a sex slave with Osborne whose fetishes turn her stomach and all viewers too, no doubt. Demelza gets a glimpse of Morwenna’s displeasure when the newlywed tells her that Osborne is a monster and runs away. Elizabeth also understands that something’s wrong with Morwenna, but she’s too wound up in herself to get involved. Morwenna dreads going to bed with Osborne, which is a requirement. Praying with his daughters takes a back seat to doing her marital duties. Off with your shoes, my pretty! Ugh.

Post coitus Morwenna looks terribly sad. Osborne has a new idea of getting another woman in the house to “help” Morwenna so he announces he’s written to her mother and asked that her sister Rowenna come. Then he is off to sleep, while Morwenna just looks like her soul’s dead. She repeated says to herself, “I love Drake Carne.” This was the one part of the show that seemed extraneous. We know she’s miserable. We know she loves Drake. No need to repeat it.

Rowenna does come to town and she’s Morwenna’s opposite. She gets the scoop on Osborne quickly and then starts flirting with her brother-in-law. A breakfast she stoops down so he can see her decolletage and then she takes off her shoe and chat about her pinched toes to a man with a foot fetish. Where did she learn all this? It’s quite uncommon in the landed gentry. What is Rowenna going to be up to?

So it was a lively episode. With this series you can’t leave for a minute as you’ll miss three new plot points.

Ross & Co. to the Rescue

On this week’s Poldark Demelza pleads with Ross not to rush off to save Dwight because perhaps the plan Caroline told her about the Royalists defeating the Jacobins will work out. The look on Ross’ face says he highly doubted that, but he did listen.

George hit the ceiling when he heard that his son Valentine has rickets. The possibility of his heir having a common disease appalled him. I expect if the baby isn’t perfect George would ship him off to an orphanage.

Morwenna’s trying George’s patience by not agreeing to the match with the slithering Rev. Whitworth. Who can blame her? Elizabeth, why don’t you find her someone less slimy? Morwenna’s returned to Trenwith where she’s happily catching toads with Geoffrey Charles and her true love Drake. Aunt Agatha spies them and figures everything out. She then has a tete-a-tete with Morwenna letting the lass know that there’s no future with Drake so she ought to break things off right away. In the end Morwenna realizes that’s true. She ends it with Drake.

Nothing works out across the channel so Ross decides he must go to save Dwight. Drake joins the gang to numb the pain of his broken heart.

George is in a snit about not getting an invitation to a big party. If he were born 240 some years later he could be a regular Mark Zuckerberg, who’s reaction to social rejection was to start a billion dollar internet service. But alas Poldark’s in the late 18th century so George will just grumble and snipe and drive Elizabeth to distraction. Eventually he is invited, but that’s not sufficient because Demelza was invited. He wants to be included and he wants the host to only invite those he wants to see. Demelza gets the better of George in their exchange of cutting remarks.

George thinks trashing Ross will garner social points so he scoffs at what he considers Ross’ foolishness in leading a group of brave men over to France to save Dwight.

Over in France the men fight fiercely to save not only Dwight but a slew of men who’re imprisoned. They party has a casualty, Mr. Henshaw, Ross’ right hand man in the mines. His loss is great and he’ll be mourned for years to come. It makes Dwight’s rescue bittersweet for all but Caroline. Dwight is likely to feel survivor’s guilt for quite some time.

Drake was shot and he’ll need to be tended to, but will probably have PTSD. Morwenna has no one to help her and she’s headed for a terrible marriage.

As usual, this episode was the best thing I saw all week. The drama was pitch perfect as it closely follows the book, included stunning cinematography, and every scene was compelling. Every actor delivered a four star performance.

A Touch of Sin

a-touch-of-sin

A Touch of Sin , directed by Jian Zhangke, blew me away.

I think I was expecting a movie about love affairs or something with a touch, i.e. a little corruption.

The film could be called A Massive Dose of Sin as it dramatizes four true events in modern China. True events, my mind still swirls.

The film features four stories that overlap a tad. First we see a villager who’s fed up with the corrupt village chief who promised that proceeds from the sale of a mine would be shared with the villagers. While the chief travels by private jet and owns a luxury sedan, the villagers have netted zero. When trying to speak to the chief gets him no where, the villager turns to violence — in a big way.

A Touch of Sin - Stills - Lian Rong (Li Meng) 02 Copyright Xstream Pictures (Beijing)

Later we meet a professional thief who returns to his village for his mother’s 70th birthday, a mistress who gives her lover an ultimatum and a factory worker who heads to a bigger city, with brighter lights and more action. None of these characters fare well. They get caught in the wheels of the greed of modern China. There’s plenty of violence and blood in each story, which I still am stunned that they’re all true. The cinematography is outstanding and the dialog spare. Jia shows us these tales and leaves us with little commentary or preaching on what to think about the brutality. The scenes all feel so real, so real that it’s scary.

A Touch of Sin won for best screenplay at Cannes in 2013.

I’m glad I saw it, but watching a second time would be too much for me.