"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Finding Kafka in Prague

"Kafka has become the ubiquitous icon [of Prague]. His melancholy portrait is inescapable, adorning T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, shopping bags, puppets and above all, graffiti. . . .

"Franz Kafka’s world was the world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, long before the horrors his writing seemed to anticipate had occurred. But in his personal habits, he would have fitted well into the style of the next turn of the century and the modern-day Prague that holds him in iconic esteem."
Marilyn Bender

Kafka Museum


The setting of Kafka's novel, The Castle, could be a symbolic labyrinth of the mind; some remote haunted fortification known to Kafka or imagined; the actual and omnipresent Prague Castle (Pražský hrad); or, less precisely but more accurately, it could be the entire Castle District (Hradčany), which -- if you make your way up the hill -- you will find to be remarkably similar to the "village" described by Kafka in the early pages of the novel:

" . . . up on the hill everything soared light and free into the air, or at least so it appeared from below.

"On the whole this distant prospect of the Castle satisfied K.'s expectations. It was neither an old stronghold nor a new mansion but a rambling pile consisting of innumerable small buildings closely packed together and of one or two stories; if K. had not known that it was a castle he might have taken it for a little town. There was only one tower as far as he could see . . . Swarms of crows were circling round it. . . .

"With his eyes fixed on the Castle, K. went on farther, thinking of nothing else at all. But on approaching it, he was disappointed in the Castle; it was after all only a wretched - looking town, a huddle of village houses, whose sole merit, if any, lay in being built of stone; but the plaster had long since flaked off and the stone seemed to be crumbling away. K. had a fleeting recollection of his native town. It was hardly inferior to this so-called Castle, and if it was merely a question of enjoying the view, it was a pity to have come so far; K. would have done better to revisit his native town, which he had not seen for such a long time."
(pp 11 - 12)
from The Castle
by Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924)
[previous posts on this blog]


In the Old Town (Staré Město) as well as the Castle District, I was lost so often it was ludicrous! Admittedly, I am not the most spatially oriented person, but even with the best sense of direction in the world, wandering around Prague is truly like being inside the pages of The Castle, searching for the elusive Klamm, back and forth, around and through endless mysterious passageways. Yet, one way or another, we always arrived at our desired, designated destination. One foot in front of the other. As Kafka writes in the Eight / Blue Octavo Notebooks, "The history of mankind is the instant between two strides taken by a traveler."

Of the many maps we tried, this was my favorite.
Kafka Square is at the intersection of Kaprova & Maiselova
(at back of of the "Astronomical Clock" arrow):
Next Fortnightly Post ~ More Searching For Kafka!
Thursday, November 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts ~ Still Small Snow

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading ~ Books That Affect Us Like a Disaster

Monday, October 28, 2019

All - American Souls


The Ouija Board was never a big thing with me and my friends, though we were all mystified by it and surely pulled one out every now and then at a slumber party or on a Halloween night. With the Samhain Triumvirate upon us -- Halloween, All Saints & All Souls -- what better time to contemplate a message from Beyond. What will it bring? Healing? Threat? Warning? That's what songwriter Andrew Robert Palmer deliberates in the following lyrics, bringing to mind an entire cycle of high holy days and patriotic holidays:

American Souls

Well, I'm waiting for the light to come on
and I'm praying it ain't really there
Oh, I'm closing my eyes and hoping the monsters are gone
I'm running up the basement stairs

We were playing with the ouija board
it was late, a voice said, "hey, can I play?"
When we asked the evil spirits who they were coming for,
it just spelled out "U...S...A."

Well, sweet baby Jesus, when are you coming home?
When will this world be saved?
Will there be room in heaven for our American Souls
When flowers grow on our graves?

Hush now child don't you worry no more
even evil demons have their end
I can't say it ain't really there, so I won't anymore
but It's safe to say the sun will come out again

Have faith and pray the sun will come out again
Have faith and pray for a brand new day
the sun will come out again

Music & lyrics by Andrew Robert Palmer
released May 1, 2019
posted with author's permission
all rights reserved
Note from Andrew: "Wanted to end this whole thing off on a hopeful note, even though life can seem as spooky-scary as being in your basement in the dark when no one's home. I don't mean to sound trite or glib, but I reckon sometimes, the best you can do is keep going and hope it all gets better. But you know ...also do stuff to help it get better...don't just hang around and do nothing. cool? cool."
To The Lake!
Little House
Rockford Rock
Northside Blues Confusion
American Souls

Speaking of "trite or glib" -- but not really -- I somehow went from humming Andrew Palmer's "American Souls" to recalling another all - American tribute from the classic musical Stop the World -- I Want to Get Off, written in 1961 by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. The lyrics vary occasionally from production to production and from songbook to songbook, so if I have not chosen your favorites, please feel free to amend!

What remains constant in each rendition is the spectacle of a citizen shallowly embracing the more ridiculous elements of patriotism and popular culture without bothering to remember the current President or understand the Constitution -- how timely! Thus even the cutesy comic relief of a show tune harbors the same sinister concern lurking in Palmer's "American Souls." Entertaining yet worrisome:

All - American

I'm an all - American sweetheart
From an all - American town
I'm from all - American Main Street USA
I eat all - American popcorn
I chew all - American gum
Which is why I talk this all - American way

I watch all - American movies
half the all - American night
On my all - American television screen
And like all American females
I've an all - American dream
To become an all - American movie queen

I get all - American goosebumps
When hear the Stars & Stripes
I'm an an all American niece of Uncle Sam
And I think that Mr. Eisenhower is altogether swell
-- Oh really? When? Oops --
I think Mr. Kennedy is absolutely swell
What a lucky all - American girl I am!

I consider myself very fortunate to be a citizen
of the United States of America
and furthermore, I support the Fifth Amendment,
whatever it is . . .

All - American Tevas!
What a lucky all - American girl I am!
Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, November 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Monday, October 14, 2019

Serendipity and/or Synchronicity


Synchronicity ~ Carl Jung (1875 - 1961)
Wallpaper at quotefancy
Synchronicity I

With one breath, with one flow
You will know

A sleep trance, a dream dance,
A shared romance,

A connecting principle,
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible.
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Yet nothing is invincible.

If we share this nightmare
Then we can dream
Spiritus mundi.

If you act, as you think,
The missing link,

We know you, they know me

A star fall, a phone call,
It joins all,

It's so deep, it's so wide
Your inside

Effect without a cause
Sub-atomic laws, scientific pause

Sung by The Police
Words & music by Sting

Serendipity ~ Horace Walpole (1717 - 1797)
Poster at AZ Quotes
Lawrence Block: "Serendipity. Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you've found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for."

Erin McKean: "Serendipity is when you find things you weren't looking for because finding what you are looking for is so damned difficult."

I recently had a lovely fall visit with my sister Diane during which we resumed our discussion of the "s" words for all the good coincidences: synchronicity -- when events occur simultaneously and "appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection"; and serendipity -- when events occur and develop "by chance in a happy or beneficial way." I still remember learning the meaning of serendipity, when it appeared as a vocabulary word on a 10th grade typing test! I was the slowest typist in the class, but at least I learned the vocabulary!

Remember that romantic line sung by Rita Coolidge (music by John Barry; lyrics by Tim Rice): Funny how it always goes with love, when you don´t look, you find? Well, that's kind of how it is with serendipity, except that instead of not looking, you are searching for one thing but end up finding another that is even more valuable or agreeable than the original item you were seeking.

And then there's synchronicity. After my sister departed, I sent her a note to let her know how much I was missing her, and to wish her well on the remainder of her travels. She texted back:
"Sweet you. I got your message when we stopped on our way home. We were at a ❤️Love's Travel Stop❤️ at the time. Awwww, right? Earlier we had stopped at Walmart and our cashier's name was "Kitty." What did you call that? Something about the universe synching? Today it did! 😊"

Di calls this my "Doll House Back Porch”

Also 2018 & 2016

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, October 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, September 28, 2019

With or Without an Epitaph


The Palaces of Nimroud Restored, 1851
by James Fergusson (1808 –1886)

From the 1853 collection of scholar and excavator
Sir Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894)

Where to find Nimrud on the map:
20 miles south of Mosul / Nineveh
Not shown on map:
Jerwan is 25 miles north of Mosul / Nineveh

Why these three ancient cities: Jerwan, Nimroud, and Nineveh?

First of all, let me say that if you are sitting down to read the poems of contemporary American, Jim Barnes, you had better have a World Atlas handy, because you are going to need it! In a good way! The geological and emotional strata of these poems run deep and wide. Five college towns in Ohio -- can you trace the route across the State? Small hometowns in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, with names unknown to many (well known to me). Cafes, museums, ruins, villas -- all over Europe! You must envision where they are, where the poet has been and takes you now, where you may one day go on your own steam. E.g., The Fertile Crescent:
At Jerwan

Stretching south toward Nineveh
the fertile lands Sennacherib
surveyed have now neither grain nor gold
for the hand holding compass and fold.

Long before the droning night came
down for the spoils and the wind with blame
for the deadly absence and the fall,
frowning figures left their places

on the crumbling marble monuments
and sank into the dry river bed
where the hot hand that fell still means
to fall on the holy heads of gods.

No gardens hanging from the banks,
no stone aqueducts now standing
lone, level, or otherwise.

Far from
Ishtar and Nineveh only this:
dust, thirst, desert despair,
the dream of Sennacherib gone wrong.

by Jim Barnes (b 1933)
in Sundown Explains Nothing, 2019

Artist’s Depiction of the Jerwan Aqueduct

Sennacherib (750 - 681 BC) ruled Assyria from 705 BC to 681 BC, and beautified the capital city of Nineveh with aqueducts, canals, hanging gardens, temples, and a “palace without a rival.” Yet, as Barnes points out, all that magnificence has been replaced by "lone, level" sands, eerily distant. The reader is reminded of proud fictional (or maybe not) Ozymandias, king of kings:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 - 1822)
My son Ben, on vacation in London, also took a moment to remind me of Ozymandias, sending me this photograph of the tomb of eccentric 17th-century medical quack Lionel Lockyer. Ben added his own clever caption . . .

"Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."

. . . and the following commentary:

"On the other hand we've all heard of Ozymandias,
so maybe he was on to something?"

Or at least Shelley was!"

[True, it is not all that unusual to hear
the name of Ozymandias twice in one week
-- and at least twice before on this blog!]

Back in the day, Lockyer (c.1600 – 1672) successfully marketed a miracle pill that apparently cleansed the entire digestive system by causing simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea. Though it sounds exceedingly unpleasant, his product had a huge following during his lifetime; and upon the occasion of his death, he took the opportunity to write as his epitaph one final advertisement for his "Pilulae Radiis Solis Extractae" (extract of sunlight!), more commonly referred to as "Lockyer's Pill":
Here Lockyer: lies interr'd enough: his name
Speakes one hath few competitors in fame:
A name soe Great, soe Generall't may scorne
Inscriptions whch doe vulgar tombs adorne.
A diminution 'tis to write in verse
His eulogies which most men's mouths rehearse.
His virtues & his PILLS are soe well known...
That envy can't confine them under stone.
But they'll survive his dust and not expire
Till all things else at th'universall fire.
This verse is lost, his PILL Embalmes him safe
To future times without an Epitaph
Lockyer thought for sure his pills would outlast his faux sonnet. Ozymandias and Sennacherib envisioned generation after generation surveying their mighty works. Yet in each case, the future went its own way, choosing a different fate for the would - be heroes, leaving behind a "dream . . . gone wrong."

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, October 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, September 14, 2019

When Women Wore Names


I know thee by name. . . .
Exodus 33:17

Fear not . . . I have called thee by thy name. . .
Isaiah 43:1

For more Cartouche Hieroglyphs: Alphabet ~ Generator

A few months ago, my friend Joni
shared this photograph with the caption:
"Ran the sun up to this 'Warrior Song'
by The Red Shadow Singers
and received my new name Running Redbud
Love my shirt feeling grateful ❤️"

Listening to the old Anishinabe Thunderbird Warrior Song reminded me of a favorite essay from teaching days when one of the recurring themes on my syllabus was "you deserve to be called by your name." It took me all summer to track down a copy, but here is an excerpt, just in time for Joni's birthday:
The Names of Women
Louise Erdrich

"Ikwe is the word for woman in the language of the Anishinabe, my mother’s people, whose descendants, mixed with and married to French trappers and farmers, are the Michifs of the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota. Every Anishinabe Ikwe, every mixed-blood descendant like me, who can trace her way back a generation or two, is the daughter of a mystery. The history of the woodland Anishinabe – decimated by disease, fighting Plains Indian tribes to the west and squeezed by European settlers to the east–is much like most other Native American stories, a confusion of loss, a tale of absences, of a culture that was blown apart and changed so radically in such a short time that only the names survive.

"And yet, those names.

"The names of the first women whose existence is recorded on the rolls of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, in 1892, reveal as much as we can ever recapture of their personalities, complex natures and relationships. These names tell stories, or half stories, if only we listen closely.

"There once were women named Standing Strong, Fish Bones, Different Thunder. There once was a girl called Yellow Straps. Imagine what it was like to pick berries with Sky Coming Down, to walk through a storm with Lightning Proof. Surely, she was struck and lived, but what about the person next to her? People always avoided Steps Over Truth, when they wanted a straight answer, and I Hear, when they wanted to keep a secret. Glittering put coal on her face and watched for enemies at night. The woman named Standing Across could see things moving far across the lake. The old ladies gossiped about Playing Around, but no one dared say anything to her face. Ice was good at gambling. Shining One Side loved to sit and talk to Opposite the Sky. They both knew Sounding Feather, Exhausted Wind and Green Cloud, daughter of Seeing Iron. Center of the Sky was a widow. Rabbit, Prairie Chicken and Daylight were all little girls. She Tramp could make great distance in a day of walking. Cross Lightning had a powerful smile. When Setting Wind and Gentle Woman Standing sang together the whole tribe listened. Stop the Day got her name when at her shout the afternoon went still. Log was strong, Cloud Touching Bottom weak and consumptive. Mirage married Wind. Everyone loved Musical Cloud, but children hid from Dressed in Stone. Lying Down Grass had such a gentle voice and touch, but no one dared to cross She Black of Heart.

"We can imagine something of these women from their names. . . ."
Yet, despite their power and beauty, these elegant and naturally descriptive names were slowly, surely, and sadly, overwritten throughout the 20th Century by Christianized, Anglicized and Frenchified replacements: "She Knows the Bear became Marie. Sloping Cloud was christened Jeanne. Taking Care of the Day and Yellow Day Woman turned into Catherines. Identities are altogether lost."

Erdrich explains what happened in her family of origin: "The daughters of my own ancestors, Kwayzancheewin – Acts Like a Boy and Striped Earth Woman – go unrecorded, and no hint or reflection of their individual natures comes to light through the scattershot records of those times, although they must have been genetically tough in order to survive: there were epidemics of typhoid, flu, measles and other diseases that winnowed the tribe each winter. They had to have grown up sensible, hard-working, undeviating in their attention to their tasks. They had to have been lucky. . . . all the mothers going back into the shadows, when women wore names that told us who they were" (emphasis added).

Happy Birthday to Running Redbud!

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, September 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Common Air that Bathes the Globe


Thanks to my brother - in - law Tom Burrows
for his beautiful photograph of this late summer blossom!


With Labor Day Weekend upon us,
who better than our
200 - year - old
American Superhero Walt Whitman
to help us celebrate
"the social and economic achievements of American workers."

As my friend Len once observed:
"Every reminder of Whitman is bracing!"

Whitman is so vast and inclusive, so enthusiastic about life in these United States, that nearly any passage or poem would be appropriate for the occasion of Labor Day. Time after time, he provides comprehensive lists of jobs, professions, States, claiming his identity as "Southerner . . . Northerner . . . Yankee . . . Kentuckian . . . Hoosier . . . Kanadian":

I am . . . A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest,
A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons,
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker,
Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.

I resist any thing better than my own diversity,
Breathe the air but leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.


These are really the thoughts of all . . . in all ages and lands,
they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
This the common air that bathes the globe.


This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The kept-woman, sponger, thief, are hereby invited,
The heavy-lipp'd slave is invited, the venerealee is invited;
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

This is the press of a bashful hand, this the float and odor of hair,
This the touch of my lips to yours, this the murmur of yearning,
This the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face,
This the thoughtful merge of myself, and the outlet again.

Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well I have, for the Fourth-month showers have,
and the mica on the side of a rock has.

Do you take it I would astonish?
Does the daylight astonish? does the early redstart twittering through the woods?
Do I astonish more than they?

This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.


No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them,
No more modest than immodest.

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

Whoever degrades another degrades me,
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.

Through me the afflatus surging and surging,
through me the cur- rent and index.

I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy,
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have
their counterpart of on the same terms.

Through me many long dumb voices,
Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,
Voices of the diseas'd and despairing and of thieves and dwarfs,
Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion,
And of the threads that connect the stars . . .

Song of Myself, 16, 17, 19, 24
in Leaves of Grass


"I wear my hat as I please indoors or out."
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
photographed on New Year's Eve 1886
by George Collins Cox (1851–1903)
photo restored in 1979 by Adam Cuerden


"When quoting Whitman," Len advised, "be sure to stand up and read it aloud for the full effect (and for the benefit of others in your vicinity!)."

Len's advice reminded me of a long ago teacher evaluation that I received at Notre Dame, when a student had listed under my "weaknesses": "Likes to read aloud." Haha! But true!

As Len then pointed out, "If people only knew the hilarious comments students often provide on course evaluations, they would want these anthologized. But then the teachers would be tempted to read these aloud."

Whitman was ever one to proclaim, but also one to whisper:

"This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you
. . .

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you."


Additional examples of Whitman's bracing words:
~ Quotidian ~ Book List ~ Fortnightly ~

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, September 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading