ABOUT BOOKS. No.6

disappointed man

THE JOURNAL OF A DISAPPOINTED MAN AND A LAST DIARY

W.N.P. BARBELLION

This is a really quiet and lovely book about W.N.P. Barbellion, born in 1889 in North Devon, died in 1919 of Multiple Sclerosis, so any fireworks in it are the fireworks of a young man physically sick but also sick with the longing to live.  His lifelong passion was for natural history and he started work in the Entomology Department of the Natural History Museum in Kensington in 1912 but his health forced him to resign his post in 1917.   This book was published a few months before his death.

The Journal starts when he was thirteen.  Barbellion offers so much of his life in his writings with his joys, his sadnesses, his doubts and his very natural fears and grumpiness as his health constantly lets him down, he becomes a much loved friend. I first read him years and years ago and go back to him at least once a year. He is lovable, courageous and fascinating; simply a friend you haven’t met in person.

The Harmsworth Self-Educators he mentions were big green books that my own father owned and read and which, many years later, I read, too, because I would read anything that had print on it.  I often wonder what happened to them and think they probably ended up in a jumble sale at the local chapel, which is pretty much where a lot of books came from.

‘March 14th 1907

Have been reading through the Chemistry Course in the Harmsworth Self-Educator and learning all the facts and ideas about radium.  I would rather have a clear comprehension of the atom as a solar system than a private income of £100 a year.  If only I had eyes to go on reading without a stop!’

 

 

GOOD FRIDAY

              street at night

               Good Friday 30th March 2018

                            GOOD FRIDAY

 So now it begins with the sun striking through the tall windows,
Onto the old brown pews and onto the pulpit,
Onto the slender Cross where the weight of this weeping world
Is carried on helpless shoulders,
Onto the crown of thorns blazing in the shadows,
Burning the darkness with its crimson glory.

 This is not a gentle day, yet gentleness persists in breaking through,
For the soaring arc of the wide blue banner
Painted on the far wall of the Chapel,
Painted high above the polished table where blue scented grasses
Quiver in a silver goblet, unquestioning and faithful,
Presents to us those golden words painted on that lovely blue arc,
Words that insist ‘God Is Love’
Which gently insist it is this we must always remember. 

The singing is bright now, pausing, darkening, lifting, soaring,
Until a sudden startling descant adds its own touch of glory
To all tough and tender hearts caught in a flesh
Ever subject to death and to corruption, yet ever open to joy.
These singers of sacred songs seek the strength of God as they sing
And in those three plain words, God Is Love, find it. 

Then the crisp cold air smelling faintly of lavender
Drifts like a prayer into the silence and the silence is profound
As silence always is when God is listening.
And God is always listening.
And love is always sending its quiet hope out into the world. 

                                                                              © GWEN GRANT.

ABOUT BOOKS No.5

hundertwasser_ju_gb_3d_43431_1711271423_id_1163633

HUNDERTWASSER

This dazzling book of Hundertwasser’s paintings make the greyest world sing.  The picture on the book cover is a detail from a painting I love – ‘Wintergeist – Tableau d’hiver – Winterbild – Polyp’ which I’m reliably informed translates into ‘Winter Painting, Giudecca, April 1966’

Here is what Hundertwasser says about straight lines:

‘If a lion is stalking you, or a shark is out to kill you, you are of course in mortal danger.  We have lived with these dangers for millions of years.  The straight line is a man-made danger.  There are so many lines, millions of lines, but only one of them is deadly and that is the straight line drawn with a ruler.  The danger of the straight line cannot be compared with the danger of organic lines described by snakes, for instance.  The straight line is completely alien to mankind, to life, to all creation.’

I bought this book years ago from a brilliant bookshop in Lincoln, sadly now  closed. It’s one of those finds that are a comfort and inspiration for life.

lincoln bookshop

WAITING

fox

                   WAITING

Silent fields, and a bitter night,
And us, trying to keep warm
Under a frozen sky,
The air so cold, a tap
Would shatter it into shards of darkness
To fall around our feet,
And in that star-lit, owl frozen silence,
The hushed dark call carried thinly
Across the still and sleeping fields.

We, so quiet, the red-gold shadow
Of a fox padded by us
All unaware of our waiting,
Its paw pressing the frosted grass
Into dark and hungry prints
Along the path.

Then the silence was broken
By the soft whisper of wind
Drifting snowflakes down the feathered sky,
To quilt the winter ground,
And, somewhere, in that bitter icy world,
Someone offered a word of hope
To someone else.

As long as hope is in the world, then,
We, cold and frozen in our waiting,
Can warm ourselves at the fire of eternal love.

                                                      ©Gwen Grant

ABOUT BOOKS No. 4.

THE FIVE HUNDRED BEST ENGLISH LETTERS edited by LORD BIRKENHEAD

This is ANNE BOLEYN’s (1507 – 36) last letter, and it is to the man who had ordered her death, KING HENRY VIII.  Henry had given up the wife he had lived with for twenty years, Catherine of Aragon, his brother, Arthur’s widow, so that he could marry Anne.  He not only broke with Rome for her, he also faced the anger of the great powers of Europe.  Yet here is Anne, two years after her marriage to him, writing a passionate and heart-broken letter whilst waiting for her death.

This is only an excerpt from the letter but it makes for very sad reading.

‘Sir, Your Grace’s displeasure and my imprisonment are things so strange unto me, as what to write, or what to excuse, I am altogether ignorant……

But let not your Grace ever imagine that your poor wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a fault which not so much as a thought thereof proceeded. And to speak a truth, never prince had a wife more loyal in all duty, and in all true affection, that you have ever found in Anne Boleyn…..

You have chosen me from a low estate to be your queen and companion, far beyond my desert or desire.  If then you found me worthy of such honour, good your Grace, let not any light fancy or bad counsel of mine enemies withdraw your princely favour from me; neither let that stain, that unworthy stain, of a disloyal heart towards your good Grace, ever cast so foul a blot on your most dutiful wife, and the infant princess, your daughter…..

My last and only request shall be, that myself may only bear the burden of your Grace’s displeasure, and that it may not touch the innocent souls of those poor gentlemen who, as I understand, are likewise in strait imprisonment for my sake.  If ever I have found favour in your sight, if ever the name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing in your ears, then let me obtain this request;  and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further….

From my doleful prison in the Tower, this 6th of May.  Your most loyal and faithful wife, ANNE BOLEYN.’

Anne was beheaded by a French swordsman on the 19th May.

TURN AROUND

 path & gate 

 TURN AROUND

There’s been no song
On this tongue
Since you left,
No notes of laughter, either.

Just change your mind,
Turn around,
Walk back down the path
You walked away on.

Then, opening the door,
You’d practically hear
An almost complete opera.

Smiles would shower on you,
Kisses rain down on you.
Oh, turn around!
Come home!
Let’s spend our lives together.

                              © Gwen Grant

ABOUT BOOKS No.3

northern musetartan burns

ROBERT BURNS POETRY

THE NORTHERN MUSE (An anthology of Scots vernacular Poetry)

I’ve had a very small red tartan covered book of Robert Burns poems for years and years, from the days when I was a very impressionable girl in love with poetry. Again, it is a bit battered because it’s been handled and read so much. It is one of my most loved books but now I come to find it today, it’s nowhere to be seen. It had one of my favourite poems in it, ‘My love is like a red red rose,’ but having said that, when I look it up in The Northern Muse, (which is edited by John Buchan who wrote The Thirty Nine Steps) I find the real poem begins, ‘O, My luve is like a red, red rose,’ which makes it somehow more heart-breakingly lovely.

Burns was born in 1759 and died in 1796. His father was an unsuccessful tenant farmer in Ayrshire and life was very hard for all the Burns family. I can understand Robert turning to poetry to offset some of the hardness of that life.

Here’s the poem:

O, my luve is like a red, red rose, / That’s newly sprung in June: / O, my luve is like the melodie / That’s sweetly played 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: / And I will luve thee still, my dear, / While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, / my only luve, / And fare thee weel a while! / And I will come again, my love, / Tho’ it were ten thousand mile!

My computer doesn’t like the dialect in this poem and is underlining words with wiggly red lines as fast as it can. ‘Weel,’ is as you have guessed, ‘well.’

I remember reading the line ‘And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:’ in such absolute astonishment at this deep and beautiful image, that I felt somehow I had moved from one world to another. It affected me very much. It was like seeing Burns’ soul written on the page.

It still has the same effect now.