The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Nagging works! and other items

Posted on: March 11, 2008

The local Chapters has finally condescended to restock the London Review of Books! I started nagging them about it a year ago and gave up after 6 months — perhaps it takes them a long, long time to process requests. Likelier is that the move had nothing to do with me. I bought a copy today even though I’m a subscriber as a way to encourage them to keep it up. They should view selling them as a public service move if The Great British Press Disaster has any bearing on newspapers on this side of the Atlantic.

One interesting article (only available to subscribers) is Tobias Gregory’s review of Why Milton Matters: A New Preface to His Writings by Joseph Wittreich. If one listened to Quentin Skinner‘s Lady Margaret’s lecture on Milton’s political writings one got a pretty good sense of how his opinions on government, liberty and religion coincided, diverged or were directly relevant to present times. One thing he was cautious to highlight that although Milton has a sexy rebellious image that some historians may be tempted to airbrush his less attractive views in order to make him more superficially appealing. But although Milton was a proponent for religious freedom he wasn’t magnanimous enough to think that Roman Catholics deserved such a right; he may have espoused equality principles but it was only for gentlemen of a certain class and did not include women of any; nor was he wholly against censorship but thought it necessary that printing presses should have the right to publish papers without pre-approval or special licenses.

Going by Gregory’s review Wittreich should have been required to attend that lecture. The more curious thing I’ve come to learn this year and was ignorant of because Milton did not figure at all in my Jamaican high school education is how fusty Milton’s academic image is. Apparently, modernists like Virginia Woolf and Eliot are partly to blame for the situation, one that is dire enough for Gregory to make what I found to be a suspicious, exaggerated statement:

Milton is the greatest English poet whom it is possible for serious readers to dislike. There are no fans of Marlowe, Jonson or Webster who cannot also find pleasure in Shakespeare; there are no admirers of Piers Plowman or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight who cannot also appreciate The Canterbury Tales. But it is not hard to find enthusiastic readers of Marvell or Spenser or Dryden or Donne who cannot warm to Milton, and make no apology for it.

O RLY? I felt an urge to try some Chaucer to prove him wrong. Maybe I hate Marlowe’s plays with an unprecedented fervour yet uncovered because I haven’t read them (yet?). I’m not even sure why he grouped folks like Marvell or Donne with Milton — the first two’s style don’t strike me as being similar to Milton’s at all. Just grouping all same century writers then? I guess I’ve become a bit sensitive about it because every single piece of media coverage I’ve seen on Milton so far first establishes how nobody likes him any more. Eh.

For more popular poetry hop on over to Blog Meridian where John B. blogs about his classroom experiences in teaching “Stopping By Woods on a Snow Evening”: A Thank You. The most intriguing bits for me were the interpretations John and his students discussed in class. That Robert Frost poem is one I first encountered on my own — I wriggled in my chair in glee during a high school English exam (CXC aka ‘O’ levels) once because it appeared on the paper, along with The Wild Swans at Coole by Yeats and no, I don’t know why I remember this — and until now only ever appreciated the visual picture created in my mind. The lines’ rhythm stand out too, especially in the last stanza, but really my first response to the poem whenever I think or read about it it is a mental picture of a man (hazily outlined) on a horse in a forest in the evening with the snow falling softly. John provides a bonus poem too of another Frost poem about someone wandering in the forest: The Wood-pile (which was new to me). For an oldie but goodie posted around this time last year consider lotusgreen’s visual accompaniment to “Stopping By Woods…” at Japonisme.

As an aside, I did not remember the title of the Yeats poem when I composed this post or any lines of it. What I retained was an image, too, of birds (I first thought of geese but that was a different poem) by a lake, by a tree, at evening about to take flight. I also remember having more difficulty with the Yeats poem questions than the Frost. 😛

We move on from mental to actual pictures. Sara at A Different Stripe, the NYRB classics blog, is asking for photos of reader’s “Classics in the wild: at a bookstore, arranged on your bookshelf, propping up an uneven table, anything.” I sent two year old photos in and I know that Stefanie at So Many Books took a picture of one of her book shelves, once, which had some classics. One of the internet’s many pleasures is book shelf ogling so I hope all you classics owners with cameras hop to it.


12 Responses to "Nagging works! and other items"

Thanks for the plug, Imani. It’s fascinating to think of a Jamaican girl’s initial responses to Frost’s poems about trudging about in the snow, especially if she had found those poems on her own. Not that knowledge of snow is a prerequisite for reading Frost, mind you.

As for Milton, both my wife and I are big fans of Paradise Lost. Even though his theology is more than a little, um, unorthodox, there’s no questioning his demanding intellect or the beauty of his poetry.

Oh: and Marlowe is a trip. He’s no Shakespeare, but his energy is amazing, especially in Tamberlaine the Great.

Oh, I will have to send a picture, or two! And I think you can take credit for your Chapters store carrying the LRB again 🙂

Damn. I really need to invest in a new camera to take some pictures.

But kudos to you for badgering your local Chapters on carrying LRB. But you’re also right — there is delay in processing the orders, especially for periodicals, and depending on the vendor they are buying from.

blog meridian that’s probably why the images of that Frost poem when I was young seemed painterly to me — because that’s all I had to go on, really, besides foreign Christmas cartoons. :p

Good to know there are more Milton fans out there! And yes, I read a review of a few Marlowe plays in the NYRB once and they did sound like a treat — Gregory’s review opening just annoyed me.

Stefanie good, good. As for the LRB thing I suppose it is probable in light of Dark O’s response.

Dark O yep! Get crackin’. And your informed take on how things work for periodicals article is welcomed but also a bit disheartening in terms of customer service response. I’m glad I stuck around long enough to notice the store actually gave a hoot about my feedback.

I am grateful to Milton for inspiring so many fine minds to write thoughtful pieces about him… thinking of Paradise Lost here. On reading each such effort I breath a sigh of relief–ah thank Fred… one more reason for not having to do this again myself.

I can’t help it.. the wars of heaven I visualize as spectacular Anime, those angels heaving mountains at the Evil Doers. And I cannot, cannot–cannnot, get past the Theology, the Great Task he begs the Muse to grant him strength and vision to rend into Immoral … or is it Immortal? … Poesy. It’s such a diabolically stupid story offered with diabolically intolerable seriousness–without Blake waiting to in the wings to pull the rug out from him… if there were a god, he would have smote us all out of mercy to relieve of the burden of having to relive this monstrosity!

Such a waste of a great intellect, a great poet… Religion undid Eliot in a minor key–with poor Milton, despite his Puritan predilections, it was with all the organ stops pulled, the fireworks, the lightshow, the dry ice fog…

Maybe staged like a Rock Super Star extravagamza… Satan smashing his guitar on Gabriel’s bullet proof halo…

ay yi yi yi…

I can’t go on, I must go on…

See now, that bit about Satan smashing his guitar sounds fantastic! 😀 I do like anime and consider most religions to be “diabolically stupid” (I know you didn’t mean it that way) so maybe that explains my more positive reaction…

I liked your free response … almost… well.. almost almost, made me want to go back give PL another try.

It’s just sooo hard for me to get out from under the burden of the theology… like having a dead cow in an advanced state of decay dropped on my head…

.. but ya know.. an anime version …
ha! I could see that. who knows, maybe Milton was waaay ahead of his time?

Thank you. And, hahahahaha, at least you state your dissatisfaction with Milton in more amusing terms than most. (Dead, decaying cow dropped on your head,eh?)

Naturally, he was waaay ahead of his time. 😉 I can imagine Baz Luhrman making PL extravagantly spectacular. Have you seen any of his films? I’m one of the few Shakespeare fans (it seems) who loved his Romeo + Juliet. (I think it got me to read the play, but I’m not sure which came first.)

“And I cannot, cannot–cannnot, get past the Theology…”

Bit literal-minded in our aversions here, though, aren’t we? Or are we to plug our ears at Bach and shrink from DaVinci’s imagery, simply because prior centuries weren’t quite as safe for apostasy? Merely turn up the dials on your metaphor-sensing machine and ignore the cruciform underpinnings of PL as Lucifer’s glorious, pig-headed battle could just as well be Che vs United Fruit, or Kerouac vs The Squares, or Malcolm X vs The Pope (larf) or the Dionysus vs the Apollo in your very own soul. Christ, even *Captain Kirk* (or was it Kahn?) quotes PL in reference to an inter-planetarily Luciferian situation…

I’m the first guy to shoo Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses from the doorstep, and the Bible is nothing but a hodge podge of bronze-age free verse, porno, fig recipes and hyperbolic actuarial charts, in my opinion, but, still, how can I *not* get goosebumps reading,

“Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Skie, With hideous ruine and combustion down, To bottomless perdition, there to dwell”?

Milton is vast, marble-eternal and thunderbolt-loud where so much modern verse, though thankfully Jesus-free, is puny, po-faced, solipsistic book-keeping. JM sexed up Virgil to speak in his New Old voice (weird syntactical formulae that seemed antique to his contemporaries), minting a language that kicks my ass all these centuries later.

I lost the copy of beaten-up PL I’d carried since school, but found, with delight, I was able to download it via Project Gutenberg (along with the collected works of Mark Twain, C. Dickens and GB Shaw, among others; brilliant; by all means visit the site for out-of-copyright treasures).

What’s not to like? Ignore the Theology and read the *writing*. It’s massive and it teaches us writers how to “do” action, no easy thing (and the basis for better sex scenes, for one thing).


“Oh: and Marlowe is a trip. He’s no Shakespeare…”

Are we absolutely *certain* of this? (laugh)

Try this for an extremely entertaining read:

Hola amigo ! Yo quiero deseo de decir que
este artículo es impresionante , agradable escrito y
vienen con aproximadamente importantes vitales
infos . que lo haría como ver extra posts como este.

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