“Let us read, and let us dance;
these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Leaving Certificate Poetry - Elizabeth Bishop

I made this: Unknown at 8:00 am 0 comments
The final international poet in my Leaving Certificate series - I might have saved the best till last.

Elizabeth Bishop - according to my English teacher - was one of the most significant American poets EVER and one of the most distinguished poets of the 21st century. My English teacher was an awesome lady, a great judge of character and notoriously hard to please so we all kind of just assumed she was right.

Then we tried to read the blasted things!

The Pulitzer Prize winning Poet Laureate was also a lesbian - and though fiercely feminist, refused to allow herself to be identified by either her sexuality or orientation. She was a poet and writer first and foremost.

Rejecting the confessional style of the time, she worked the most traumatic events of her life into her works, but discreetly, subtly. From an odd angle. Using her ability as a word smith, she was able to trace the deeply personal in an oblique manner.

Bishop discussed the familial mental illness (Sestina), her grandparents adopting her (First Death in Nova Scotia), her increasingly fraught struggle with alcoholism (The Prodigal - indeed two lines from this poem were etched on her tombstone) and her birthday (The Bight).

It took many many hours before I started to see the magic in these poems - many. many. many. hours - but her magic was indeed revealed in the end. Though not always comfortable reading, her works have a vitality, a passion for life that demands the readers attention.

Let me know if you enjoy!   

A Prodigal

The brown enormous odor he lived by
was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
Light-lashed, self-righteous, above moving snouts,
the pigs' eyes followed him, a cheerful stare--
even to the sow that always ate her young--
till, sickening, he leaned to scratch her head.
But sometimes mornings after drinking bouts
(he hid the pints behind the two-by-fours),
the sunrise glazed the barnyard mud with red
the burning puddles seemed to reassure.
And then he thought he almost might endure
his exile yet another year or more.

But evenings the first star came to warn.
The farmer whom he worked for came at dark
to shut the cows and horses in the barn
beneath their overhanging clouds of hay,
with pitchforks, faint forked lightnings, catching light,
safe and companionable as in the Ark.
The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.
The lantern--like the sun, going away--
laid on the mud a pacing aureole.
Carrying a bucket along a slimy board,
he felt the bats' uncertain staggering flight,
his shuddering insights, beyond his control,
touching him. But it took him a long time
finally to make up his mind to go home.

First Death In Nova Scotia

In the cold, cold parlor
my mother laid out Arthur
beneath the chromographs:
Edward, Prince of Wales,
with Princess Alexandra,
and King George with Queen Mary.
Below them on the table
stood a stuffed loon
shot and stuffed by Uncle
Arthur, Arthur's father.

Since Uncle Arthur fired
a bullet into him,
he hadn't said a word.
He kept his own counsel
on his white, frozen lake,
the marble-topped table.
His breast was deep and white,
cold and caressable;
his eyes were red glass,
much to be desired.

"Come," said my mother,
"Come and say good-bye
to your little cousin Arthur."
I was lifted up and given
one lily of the valley
to put in Arthur's hand.
Arthur's coffin was
a little frosted cake,
and the red-eyed loon eyed it
from his white, frozen lake.

Arthur was very small.
He was all white, like a doll
that hadn't been painted yet.
Jack Frost had started to paint him
the way he always painted
the Maple Leaf (Forever).
He had just begun on his hair,
a few red strokes, and then
Jack Frost had dropped the brush
and left him white, forever.

The gracious royal couples
were warm in red and ermine;
their feet were well wrapped up
in the ladies' ermine trains.
They invited Arthur to be
the smallest page at court.
But how could Arthur go,
clutching his tiny lily,
with his eyes shut up so tight
and the roads deep in snow?

At the Fishhouses

Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
a dark purple-brown,
and his shuttle worn and polished.
The air smells so strong of codfish
it makes one's nose run and one's eyes water.
The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs
and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up
to storerooms in the gables
for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.
All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea,
swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,
is opaque, but the silver of the benches,
the lobster pots, and masts, scattered
among the wild jagged rocks,
is of an apparent translucence
like the small old buildings with an emerald moss
growing on their shoreward walls.
The big fish tubs are completely lined
with layers of beautiful herring scales
and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered
with creamy iridescent coats of mail,
with small iridescent flies crawling on them.
Up on the little slope behind the houses,
set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass,
is an ancient wooden capstan,
cracked, with two long bleached handles
and some melancholy stains, like dried blood,
where the ironwork has rusted.
The old man accepts a Lucky Strike.
He was a friend of my grandfather.
We talk of the decline in the population
and of codfish and herring
while he waits for a herring boat to come in.
There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb.
He has scraped the scales, the principal beauty,
from unnumbered fish with that black old knife,
the blade of which is almost worn away.

Down at the water's edge, at the place
where they haul up the boats, up the long ramp
descending into the water, thin silver
tree trunks are laid horizontally
across the gray stones, down and down
at intervals of four or five feet.

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
element bearable to no mortal,
to fish and to seals . . . One seal particularly
I have seen here evening after evening.
He was curious about me. He was interested in music;
like me a believer in total immersion,
so I used to sing him Baptist hymns.
I also sang "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."
He stood up in the water and regarded me
steadily, moving his head a little.
Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge
almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug
as if it were against his better judgment.
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

The Fish 
I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely.  Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown 
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
--the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly--
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed 
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
--It was more like the tipping 
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
--if you could call it a lip 
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines, 
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap 
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons 
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings, 
the gunnels--until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.


September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.
She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house 
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,
It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac
on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.
It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.
But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.
Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

The Bight 

At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
Absorbing, rather than being absorbed,
the water in the bight doesn't wet anything,
the color of the gas flame turned as low as possible.
One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire
one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.
The little ocher dredge at work off the end of the dock
already plays the dry perfectly off-beat claves.
The birds are outsize. Pelicans crash
into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard,
it seems to me, like pickaxes,
rarely coming up with anything to show for it,
and going off with humorous elbowings.
Black-and-white man-of-war birds soar
on impalpable drafts
and open their tails like scissors on the curves
or tense them like wishbones, till they tremble.
The frowsy sponge boats keep coming in
with the obliging air of retrievers,
bristling with jackstraw gaffs and hooks
and decorated with bobbles of sponges.
There is a fence of chicken wire along the dock
where, glinting like little plowshares,
the blue-gray shark tails are hung up to dry
for the Chinese-restaurant trade.
Some of the little white boats are still piled up
against each other, or lie on their sides, stove in,
and not yet salvaged, if they ever will be, from the last bad storm,
like torn-open, unanswered letters.
The bight is littered with old correspondences.
Click. Click. Goes the dredge,
and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.
All the untidy activity continues,
awful but cheerful. 

* * * * *
School Days Over

Friday, 27 January 2012

Happy BookElf

I made this: BookElf at 2:08 pm 0 comments Links to this post
I'm so ridiculously, incandescently happy at the moment, for a variety of brilliant reasons.

As many of you know, this isn't always the case for me. That's why, when I am feeling happy, I tend to shout it from the rooftops. Sing it from the trees.
I've been trying to think of books that encapsulate this feeling, but all I can think of is moments. When Elizabeth finally accepts Darcy. When Jem realises that, yes, actually, she does love Ralph. When Sarah Burton realises she's got the job. Absolute happiness is incredibly difficult to describe, harder still in prose I think than poetry, because this glow is something that fits better into stanzas than paragraphs.

Normally I'd turn to my old faithful John Donne for this, but I've found this by Christina Rossetti, that seems to fit my mood fairly well. Also, it's my birthday next week so the title is relevant, even if the subject matter isn't.

A Birthday

My heart is like a singing bird

Whose nest is in a watered shoot;

My heart is like an apple tree

Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;

My heart is like a rainbow shell

That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these

Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;

Hang it with vair and purple dyes;

Carve it in doves, and pomegranates,

And peacocks with a hundred eyes;

Work it in gold and silver grapes,

In leaves, and silver fleurs-de-lys;

Because the birthday of my life

Is come, my love is come to me.


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Happy Birthday Robert Burns!

I made this: Unknown at 12:32 pm 0 comments Links to this post
Scotland's favorite son, the Bard of Ayrshire and 2009's awarded Greatest Scot turns 253 years old today.

Well...he would...like...if he were still alive and all.

Robert Burns was a self educated man; who collected national songs and wrote both poems and lyric - popularizing his native tongue, Scots language (not to be mistaken for either English or Gaelic).

Throughout his life and ever since, he has rightly been hailed as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement and has influenced scores of authors, poets and musicians ever since.

Don't think you know of him? You're probably wrong! He's the poet who gifted the world Auld Lang Syne, A Man's A Man for A' That and Halloween.

Like practically everyone else who grew up in these fair isles; I first encountered Burns in primary school.

And, like many, I haven't really revisited him since...to be remedied this month I swear!

Here are two of my favorites:

A Red Red Rose
O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That’s sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

To A Mouse

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murdering pattle.

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An' fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't.

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld.

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Small, crafty, cowering, timorous little beast,
O, what a panic is in your little breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With argumentative chatter!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering plough-staff.

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
And fellow mortal!

I doubt not, sometimes, but you may steal;
What then? Poor little beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.

Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse grass green!
And bleak December's winds coming,
Both bitter and keen!

You saw the fields laid bare and wasted,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel plough passed
Out through your cell.

That small bit heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter's sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

(And in English...)

Small, crafty, cowering, timorous little beast,
O, what a panic is in your little breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With argumentative chatter!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering plough-staff.

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
And fellow mortal!

I doubt not, sometimes, but you may steal;
What then? Poor little beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.

Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse grass green!
And bleak December's winds coming,
Both bitter and keen!

You saw the fields laid bare and wasted,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel plough passed
Out through your cell.

That small bit heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter's sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

* * * * *
A Poetry Moment Table of Contents

* * * * *

Monday, 23 January 2012

Richard Nottingham Book 3 - The Constant Lovers

I made this: Unknown at 8:22 pm 0 comments
Leeds - 1732. 

Richard Nottingham remains the Chief Constable of Leeds - one of the few constants with regards to the city guardians. He and his right hand man and deputy - John Sedgwick - remain dedicated to keeping the city a peaceful and prosperous place.

Nottingham is as familiar with the resident cut-purses, pick-pockets and prostitutes as he is with the market traders, weavers and nobility...though possibly more comfortable with the former than the latter!
Leeds is his home, his workplace and his haven.

He and his wife - the lovely Mary - have finally come to terms with the loss of their eldest, Rose. As their remaining daughter Emily has moved out of the familial home to work as a governess; they are re-discovering their easy rapport and affection for one another.

Within the city limits; Nottingham has been set the task of tracking a pair of thieves - who take servant positions in well to do houses before absconding with the silver! However, it's entirely possible that they have ripped off the wrong man - and now he must work to find them to ensure their survival.
Additionally; he is forced to leave the confines of his beloved city and solve a heinous crime in the far reaches of the county. The body of a young woman has been found in the grounds of the ruined Kirkstall Abbey. Brutally stabbed; she carries, hidden within her clothes an enigmatic love note - 

"Soon we'll be together and 
our hearts can sing loud, 
my love, 

Despite her evident wealth, no one comes forward to claim the body. A body that - due to the heat - must be buried post haste. The Constable  finds to his frustration that the more evidence that he tracks down; the more questions that he raises.

Before he can begin to solve her murder, he must identify the remains and the mysterious W. On route to do this, he must deal with devious parents; a heartbroken husband; missing maid and Amos Worthy - his greatest foe and possibly the closest link to his past.

All in a days work... 

* * * * *

Another excellent addition to this compelling and engaging series. Once again, Chris manages to re-create the world of 18th century Leeds around the reader - capturing all the senses with his evocative prose. That's not to suggest that the language or set ups ever become flowery or grandious. As a Yorkshire lad, he is able to transport us using grounded prose and a pithy pace.

One of my favourite features is the map of the period that he always provides at the start of the book. Using this; I was able to mentally track the course of the mystery. As I have lived near Kirkstall and Horsforth here in Leeds; it was wonderful to ty and picture the landscape as it was back then. As is always the case in these books; the environment plays an active role and it was exciting and fresh to discover new terrain. 

John Sedgwick remains one of the most delightful characters of the series and its wonderful watching his progress. Although my absolute favourite only appears in a handful of scenes; Amos dominates the page. 
As I've noted in pevious reviews; another of Chris' strengths as an author is his refusal to remain static. The characters develop and grow. They behave in unexpected ways and - while change can often be painful and sad for the reader - the ending of this book is both poignant and offers great potential for future books.

Which I have no doubt there will be.

And once again, I look forward to reading them!

* * * * *
The Constant Lovers is to be officially launched at Leeds Central Library - see details here!

* * * * *
Chris Nickson

Christmas Short Story - Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw

Richard Nottingham - Book 1 - The Broken Token Review
Richard Nottingham - Book 2 - Cold Cruel Winter Review

Richard Nottingham - Exclusive - Short Story - Home
Richard Nottingham - Exclusive - December

Chris Nickson - Interview

Follow Chris on Twitter - @ChrisNickson2
Best Book of 2001 - Library Journal Award

Sweet Tooth - Mary Nottingham's Lemon Meringue Pie

* * * * *
Chris Nickson Table of Contents
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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Errrrrr Libraries Much?

I made this: BookElf at 12:37 pm 0 comments Links to this post
I am fuming.

Wikipedia is down. This is because they believe in freedom of information which apparently this new law in the US, which I don't know anything about, will restrict. Fair enough, I too believe in open content and lack of censorship.

This isn't what is making me angry.

I've just had a morning from hell. Not being able to quickly get an overview from a topic that might have only just been introduced that morning means more work for me, trying to figure out what the hell desquamation of the skin involves, or what the 2005 Children's Act prevented. But that doesn't make me angry either. That's my job.

It's the Guardian. The bloody Guardian; my rock, my home-from-home, my oracle of everything that is good in the world.

The Guardian have a fair bit of stuff on the blackout, that I first heard about in yesterday's Metro. They have this handy guide to getting around it using a smartphone or an Internet cheat. Then they is the Guardipedia, a tongue in cheek liveblog involving a journalist and a stack on encyclopedias. It's quite funny, and a good newspaper-as-social-media idea. But only in a link to the Washington Post does it suggest the one thing that should be bloody obvious; why not use a library?

Libraries are threatened with closure all over the country. In a months time is the inaugural National Libraries Day, celebrating libraries in all sectors. It has never been cooler to be a librarian, we even got mentioned in Private Eye last week! This day is a perfect opportunity for us to show our skills, to show the value of reference libraries, of professional librarians who DON'T find research, or using indexes, or any of the other plethora of actual skills we should be teaching our children, (and that journalists really should know) 'a nightmare' because it is our job...

This could have been a day where librarians really shook their tail feathers, and The Guardian, who was all over last year's Save Libraries day, should have been supporting them doing just that, not taking the mick out of research skills, no matter how lightheartedly.

* * * * *
Libraries Table of Contents
* * * * *
Review Table of Contents

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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Leaving Certificate Poetry - Seamus Heaney

I made this: Unknown at 8:00 am 0 comments
The final of 'our' Irish poets - Seamus Heaney - one of my favourites. In fact; excluding Yeats, he is *probably* my favourite.

This might sound odd, but it's almost embarrassing to admit to being a Heaney fan these days.
He is a prolific, sensitive and intelligent poet...but worst of all...he is popular.
We Irish can be a funny lot - defend the underdog till the last, but heaven forfend we admit to liking someone who is doing well!

Yet, it has been postulated that he is 'the greatest poet of our age'. Heaney does more than write poetry, he has written plays, prose and translations. He is as adept in a rural or urban setting and his works have significance internationally, as well as in his homeland.

Now, I'm a big softie, so the elegant romance of Twice Shy just made me up in school. The final lines - only one other Heaney poem affects me more - Mid Term Break. Heartbreaking and poignant in one fell swoop.

Let me know what you think?

Twice Shy

Her scarf a la Bardot,
In suede flats for the walk,
She came with me one evening
For air and friendly talk.
We crossed the quiet river,
Took the embankment walk.

Traffic holding its breath,
Sky a tense diaphragm:
Dusk hung like a backcloth
That shook where a swan swam,
Tremulous as a hawk
Hanging deadly, calm.

A vacuum of need
Collapsed each hunting heart
But tremulously we held
As hawk and prey apart,
Preserved classic decorum,
Deployed our talk with art.

Our Juvenilia
Had taught us both to wait,
Not to publish feeling
And regret it all too late -
Mushroom loves already
Had puffed and burst in hate.

So, chary and excited,
As a thrush linked on a hawk,
We thrilled to the March twilight
With nervous childish talk:
Still waters running deep
Along the embankment walk.

The Tollund Man


Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint's kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters'
Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.


I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.


Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,
Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.

Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home. 

A Constable Calls

His bicycle stood at the window-sill,
The rubber cowl of a mud-splasher
Skirting the front mudguard,
Its fat black handlegrips

Heating in sunlight, the "spud"
Of the dynamo gleaming and cocked back,
The pedal treads hanging relieved
Of the boot of the law.

His cap was upside down
On the floor, next his chair.
The line of its pressure ran like a bevel
In his slightly sweating hair.

He had unstrapped
The heavy ledger, and my father
Was making tillage returns
In acres, roods, and perches.

Arithmetic and fear.
I sat staring at the polished holster
With its buttoned flap, the braid cord
Looped into the revolver butt.

"Any other root crops?
Mangolds? Marrowstems? Anything like that?"
"No." But was there not a line
Of turnips where the seed ran out

In the potato field? I assumed
Small guilts and sat
Imagining the black hole in the barracks.
He stood up, shifted the baton-case

Further round on his belt,
Closed the domesday book,
Fitted his cap back with two hands,
And looked at me as he said goodbye.

A shadow bobbed in the window.
He was snapping the carrier spring
Over the ledger. His boot pushed off
And the bicycle ticked, ticked, ticked.


I. Sunlight

There was a sunlit absence.
The helmeted pump in the yard
heated its iron,
water honeyed

in the slung bucket
and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling
against the wall

of each long afternoon.
So, her hands scuffled
over the bakeboard,
the reddening stove

sent its plaque of heat
against her where she stood
in a floury apron
by the window.

Now she dusts the board
with a goose's wing,
now sits, broad-lapped,
with whitened nails

and measling shins:
here is a space
again, the scone rising
to the tick of two clocks.

And here is love
like a tinsmith's scoop
sunk past its gleam
in the meal-bin.

The Harvest Bow

As you plaited the harvest bow
You implicated the mellowed silence in you
In wheat that does not rust
But brightens as it tightens twist by twist
Into a knowable corona,
A throwaway love-knot of straw.

Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks
And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks
Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent
Until your fingers moved somnambulant:
I tell and finger it like braille,
Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable,

And if I spy into its golden loops
I see us walk between the railway slopes
Into an evening of long grass and midges,
Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges,
An auction notice on an outhouse wall—
You with a harvest bow in your lapel,

Me with the fishing rod, already homesick
For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick
Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes
Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes
Nothing: that original townland
Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand.

The end of art is peace
Could be the motto of this frail device
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser—
Like a drawn snare
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm

The Forge

All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end square,
Set there immoveable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music.
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and a flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.

* * * * *
School Days Over

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Secret Circle - Book 3

I made this: Unknown at 10:09 am 0 comments Links to this post
Book Three - The Power
In So Deadly A Battle...

United at last with Diana, the mistress of her coven, Cassie must first sacrifice her love for Adam to save the Secret Circle and the town of New Salem from the evil powers of the witch Faye.

Threatened by the possibility of her destruction in a final battle between good and evil, Cassie must hope that her supernatural gifts are strong enough to obliterate the powers of evil.

If victorious, Cassie will win more than she ever dreamed. But if she and Diana fail, the Power will go to those who seek only to destroy.

Can Anyone Triumph?
By far the best book in the trilogy; so naturally it has THE WORST BLURB of the trilogy. 

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This book picks at the exact same point the second book ended. Faye has just devastated the group...for the second time by revealing that Cassie and Adam are madly in love and hiding it behind Diana's back. You know...because she's Adam's ACTUAL girlfriend. 

While the Coven are initially sceptical; they soon realise that Faye is telling the truth. Faye continues - revealing the Cassie stole the magical skull - all the while twisting the truth further and further to make it appear that Cassie had been deliberately using and working against her fellow practitioners. 

Adam however insists on having his say. Between them, Cassie and Adam manage to explain what had really happened. The coven are confused and hurt but after Diana magnanimously forgives the duplicitous duo; all the poison leeches out of the gathering. 

Furious at her failure to crush Cassie; Faye becomes increasingly vicious. On the one hand, she insists on being recognised as the Coven leader. On the other, she distances herself from the group so thoroughly that even her allies begins to recognise how pernicious an influence she has become. 

Cassie tells the group of Black John's most recent visit to the Cove - finally providing the group with the explanation to their parents death. For those in the group who still have both parents; it's sobering. For those who lost a parent in the fight for good - particularly Nick who lost both - it offers respite. Although he is alone in the world, he knows now with certainty that his parents were decent upstanding witches - who gave their lives to try and protect the town from evil. 

Black John finally reveals himself to the group at Cassie's grandmothers funeral. It transpires that he has taken over the role of principal at their high school. His goal - it appears - is to destroy the coven. 
Portia (from book one) and her witch-hunting brothers move into the area and the school environment rapidly changes. No long are the Coven on top - indeed they are now openly despised. Black John uses his power to create an anti-witch environment, while appearing to only be improving discipline. He even manages to bring back the stocks by claiming them as culturally and historically significant.

Cassie - whose mother has had a complete breakdown - moves in with Diana, who continues to offer friendship and support. Nick asks her out, and to everyone's surprise Cassie accepts. She finds in Nick not a soul mate but a kindred spirit. 

To the surprise of the Coven (but not the reader), Faye is seduced by the dark side...sorry...Black John. For all of her attitude and posturing, I was surprised to find that she was basically working as his secretary. Anyway, the Coven decide to ask previous generations about the last time Black John was in town. While initially reluctant; the surviving Elders eventually tell the younger witches that the only way to fight Black John is to find the original Master Tools - hidden in the past by the original coven to prevent Black John from achieving his full magical potential. 

They also advise the girls to hold a ceremony - one designed to bring Faye back into the fold and bind the members together. In the end; there are two rituals - one for all the girls and one for just Diana and Cassie. 

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that the ritual has worked. Faye gleefully tells Cassie the truth about Black John - that the last time he was in the Cove he seduced her mother. That her arrival precipitated everything that has happened since. That she is in fact (drum roll please) Black John's daughter. 

(OK, just to let you know - this brings us about halfway through the book. A LOT happens in this rather slender book!)

The next section is very detailed and involved, so I'm just going to highlight the results. Cassie, Diana and Adam set out to learn as much as they can from their Book of Shadows in preparation for the inevitable showdown with Voldemort...sorry again... Black John. 

Long story short - using their combined knowledge Cassie taps into the power of her dreams and manages to locate the Master Tools. With Faye still on the outs with the Coven and having betrayed the club at least once, Diana once again ascends to the position of leader - albeit temporarily. 

Individually and collectively, the Coven are attached by agents of Black John. It transpires that he had manipulated witch hunters in the past - using the fear and paranoia they created in the witch community to cause the move to the Cove in the first place. Recognising a winning formula when he sees one, Black John is now using the pushy Portia and her friends to try and find the location of the Master Tools. Time and again, the Coven work together to protect themselves - despite being a member short - though it is rapidly becoming obvious that they are being betrayed by someone within the inner circle. 

After one such attack, Adam rescues Cassie in dramatic fashion and she realises that she has to break up with Nick. She has no intention of hurting Diana but she can't be with anyone other than Adam. They remain too powerfully drawn to one another. Nick is surprisingly understanding about the whole thing. If nothing else, Cassie has forced him to face up to the fact that he is not alone in the world. Not anymore. 

After one particularly sensitive piece of information is leaked, Cassie, Adam and Diana realise who the traitor is. Worse - they realise that there is a good chance that it is this person who was likely responsible for the deaths throughout the books. 

Determined to keep *this* information secret, the circle fall apart...in public at least - continuing to gather as much intel as possible. Black John is preparing a hurricane - one that will isolate the Cove from the mainland and wipe out huge numbers of the population. Taking a huge risk, Cassie forges a reluctant truce with an outsider - hoping to save as many lives as she can.

Ultimately; the Cover are able to cleanse and purify the unwitting traitor but Faye still seems to have abandoned them. As it is an emergency, it is the ideal time to nominate a new leader. Before anyone can react, Diana nominates Cassie - who is stunned. The group unanimously agree. Before she can think, Cassie is about to lead the club against her father.  

Black John has had centuries to prepare for this day. He sets the scene and Cassie feels helpless against him alone, even with the Master Tools. Her Coven join her - despite the risks and it is only by working together that they could possibly be able to defeat him. One by one the club use the knowledge they have collected throughout the series to bind him forever...but they can still feel his strength - diminished but not gone. In the end, wild unpredictable Faye steps up and joins her family and her friends. Black John is - for now and all future generations - defeated. 

Cassie instantly checks on her mother who has finally regained her senses. The Coven remain determined for her to lead though she recognises that she'd be better with Diana for stability...and Faye for her passion. She will only stay on the Cove if they form a triumvirate and work together. 

Finally, Diana points out that Cassie and Adam are soul mates and that it would be useless to deny it any further. Cassie and he are finally allowed to be together and she sees a glimpse of their future together - not just in this life but in an infinite number of futures. 

In the end, she realises that she is truly home. 

OK, I know I've made it sound a little 'aw, bless' there at the end but it's actually very engrossing and I really enjoyed reading the series. 

Just as well really. I borrowed the Vampire Diaries from a mate and I can't get into it at all.  

The Secret Circle
The Secret Circle - Book 1 - The Initiation
The Secret Circle - Book 2 - The Captive
The Secret Circle - Book 3 - The Power

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Review Table of Contents

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