Making precious memories: Thomas Hardy’s poems

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violin

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Thomas Hardy  has always tended to be better known for his novels than for his poems, but among the hundreds of poems he wrote on a wide range of subjects, there are some very memorable ones. This has always been one of my favourites:

The Self-Unseeing

Here is the ancient floor,

Footworn and hollowed and thin,

Here was the former door

Where the dead feet walked in.

 

She sat here in her chair,

Smiling into the fire;

He who played stood there,

Bowing it higher and higher.

 

Childlike, I danced in a dream;

Blessings emblazoned that day;

Everything glowed with a gleam;

Yet we were looking away!

Hardy here is describing a scene from his childhood: it’s a family occasion with his father playing his violin as the young Thomas dances and twirls and his mother looks on smiling. The last two lines are the most poignant since they carry the message that this family time was a very precious moment  but, sadly, they had not appreciated this at the time. Continue reading

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How to enjoy reading Charles Dickens

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First of all, why bother to read Dickens at all?

Because he was one of the greatest novelists who ever lived. His novels feature really ingenious plotting; a vast range of exceptionally colourful and memorable characters of all kinds – many of them eccentric and humorous (although there are some great villains too); interesting insights into life and human nature; many funny episodes; a breath-taking prose style; memorable expressions and witty comments.

Traditionally, Dickens is not seen as an easy read, and in some ways he isn’t. Unfortunately, though, many people have been introduced to Dickens at school when they were too young to understand his prose style and this has had the effect of turning them off Dickens for life. Because children are quite familiar with simplified versions of stories such as Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, there is a mistaken perception that these books were written for children, but they remain very much adult novels. The original full-length versions are far too dificult for children yet, if you return to Dickens’s books as an adult, you’ll find them much more readable than they were when you were fourteen!

Nevertheless, it’s worth bearing in mind that in the twenty-first century we’re saturated with instant messages and easy readability, but Dickens does have to be worked at a bit – not something we’re used to. But if you’ve never managed to enjoy Dickens before but you’re prepared to make the effort now, he more than repays the toil you put in .

Seven Steps to Getting the Best from Dickens

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World War One in Literature

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With all the interest in World War One at the moment, I thought it was an opportune moment to review some of the great writing about this war. Although consulting factual sources and documentaries will give us the facts, it is reading well-written personal accounts, novels and poetry which helps us see into the hearts and minds of those who had first-hand experience of this terrible conflict.
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How’s that for a coincidence!

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Sometimes it’s peculiar how small random things in life line up and coincide. They may have no special significance but just leave you thinking, “Hm, that’s strange.” Today was a bit like that – and what’s more, I ended up knowing a lot more about Earl Grey than I did before. Continue reading

What will you do when you’ve retired?

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Al fresco dining

Al fresco dining

I retired a week ago and so far, I have to say, retirement’s been good to me! But what will I do when the novelty has worn off? Because people keep telling me the novelty WILL wear off and I WILL get bored. Hmm, I don’t think so but – just in case it does- it probably wouldn’t do any harm to start formulating some plans.

So here they are, my plans for retirement (in no particular order because I don’t have to bother about that kind of thing any more):
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Words to comfort and inspire

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Back in the nineteen-seventies many people had a kind of little chart on the wall with some very popular words written on it. At the bottom of the words was a note saying that this prose poem had been found in a Baltimore church in 1692. It transpires that this was a lie.

The “Desiderata”, as the poem was titled, was actually written in about 1920 by American poet Max Ehrmann. In 1971 Les Crane’s recording of it resulted in a number 6 hit in the UK pop music charts. This uneasy mix of pious speaking with a background of cheesy singing is quite painful to listen to these days, but I’m quite fond of the version on the film above.

The words aren’t particularly religious, but they are quietly comforting and inspiring in a common sense kind of way. Fractions of the words are eminently quotable and memorable. For that reason, I decided to post the poem here: Continue reading

Who writes the best detective fiction?

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By Guest Blogger, Terry Ward

I became a devotee of Sherlock Holmes in my early teens, attracted by Conan Doyle’s colourful characters in interesting social situations, climaxing in Holmes’ apparently logical solutions. Then, in my early twenties I went on to read the published work of Raymond Chandler, having already watched the black and white films of Humphrey Bogart, who often portrayed the laconic private eye in many of Chandler’s stories.

In the last two decades I have followed the detective genre in China, Russia, Germany, the U.S.A and Britain. I try to avoid novels which are very violent, or which resort to macho dialogue about guns or cars. Books concerning serial killers do not attract me, because I want realism or – at least – plausibility. Continue reading