Finally got around to updating all my reading over the last few months. There are a couple of good posts there at least. Certainly one on Georgette Heyer whom I’ve been re-reading steadily, and another one on fantasy writer Raymond E Feist. Quite when I will get around to writing them I don’t know, but you never know, I might.
It is a pity that this poem of Owen’s has become such a cliché at this time year, but I felt it worth posting as I see that it is almost exactly ninety years since it was written. How sad that it seems more appropriate than ever.
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
– Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
You can find more on this poem in this Wikipedia article and some general information about Owen here. See also, this post: Dulce et Decorum est?
There has been a deathly silence on these pages for some months. This is partly because I have pretty much stopped writing for the moment and also because I have been reading much less than formerly. Mt TBR is assuming Everest-like proportions and keeps getting added to as I see yet another book I would quite like to read, but never seem to find the time to actually do the reading. Looking at my books read list there are nevertheless a fair number that I have read, which I could easily review here, so I intend making a start on doing so over the next few weeks.
I like to quote something on Remembrance Day, but not the triteness of MacRae, which seems almost jaunty.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
And sadly Owen and Sassoon are overdone on this day, although I have used them in the past on other blogs. Today I was looking for a poem that summed up my thoughts at the moment; that the dead are dead, that they didn’t die for us, a near or remote posterity; they died for themselves, for their families, or for nothing, dying like most people in a similar situation, thinking it couldn’t happen to them.
And I remember those who survived; people like my grandfather who really got off very lightly, and yet who only ever talked about his experiences briefly and then towards the end of his life. Others were not so lucky, and never escaped from the nightmare, whether through physical or mental mutilation.
Here’s a poem by Charles Hamilton Sorely (1895-1915)
When you see the millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto,
‘Yet many a better one has died before.’
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
Not a poem about remembrance per se, but I think it touches on what I have said above; don’t praise the heroic sacrifice of the dead – what do they care? But it also acknowledges that the survivors will remember, even in dreams.
Apologies for the hiatus, but I have been away. Normal service should now be resumed.
I spent part of yesterday afternoon listening to my eight-year-old niece doing her homework. She is doing myths and legends at school just now, and her homework was to write a story telling the tale of how the snail got its shell. It was fascinating – she told us what she was going to write beforehand, a little bit at a time, and the story that evolved before our eyes, was full of elements from all sorts of things.
It was a quest story. Our hero, who begins life as a slug, is cruelly orphaned in a savage attack on his family by thrushes. And yes, it was a hero, and not a heroine. He then runs into a friendly goddess who conveniently has had her crown stolen by magpies. Our hero agrees to retrieve it for her in exchange for her granting him a wish. There then follows an episode, which I commented bore more relation to Dungeons and Dragons than any traditional legends I knew. It involves trapdoors secret passages, grabbing the stolen crown, and escaping detection in the nick of time – thrilling stuff! Our hero has gained two sidekicks by this time, although only he gets a wish from the goddess, which seemed a bit unfair to me. For some unexplained reason he asks for a house on his back, like a tortoise, and so becomes a snail.
I think my niece may make a writer – she has a powerful imagination. She does read quite a lot of fantasy and there are clearly derivative elements to this story, but the way she has strung them together into a workable whole is interesting. The story had bits that could have come from Aesop or Ovid, as well as Tolkien or CS Lewis – she loves Narnia, and yet the choice of a slug as hero was good even if she did have to remind herself that it doesn’t have any legs.
I look forward to reading her more mature work.
It is traditional to begin a blog with a statement of intent, and I see no reason to be any different. I wanted something where I could post (relatively) serious discussion about books I am reading or have read recently, and thoughts and issues about my writing.
I am not an academic, neither am I a great student of serious literature. For me, reading is something I do to escape from the real world. I read to be entertained, not challenged, and I hope that the sorts of things I write are in themselves, entertaining.
Growing up I tended to split my reading between historical fiction and science fiction/fantasy. I devoured Rosemary Sutcliffe and Andre Norton. When I began to write I attempted to write fantasy but it didn’t work and when it eventually did work, it was historical, and that is what I write now.
Rosemary Sutcliff links
An Appreciation, by the HNS
Blue Remembered Hills
Andre Norton links
Wikipedia on Andre Norton
So the focus is largely historical. The period of my interest is subject to change, dependent on what I am writing. Currently it is the Great War, previously it has been mid Victorian Scotland, Roman Scotland, and some years before that, the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.