The shape of words.

Anyone who knows me may be surprised to learn that I own three Bibles (the Revised Standard, the New English, and the King James), as well as the Book of Mormon, the Nag Hammadi Scriptures, the Apocrypha, and an English translation of the Qur’an. I know the difference between an Apostle and an Epistle, I can list the twelve sons of Jacob*, and I can whip out a quote from the four Gospels for just about any occasion.

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On Aging

From “Mathios Paschalis among the Roses”, by George Seferis:

Her aunt was a poor old body, — veins in relief,
Many wrinkles about her ears, a nose about to die;
Yet her words always full of wisdom.
One day I saw her touching Antigone’s breast,
Like a child stealing an apple

Will I perhaps meet the old woman as I keep descending?
When I left she said to me “Who knows when we shall meet again?”
Then I read of her death in some old newspapers
And of Antigone’s wedding and the wedding of Antigone’s daughter
Without an end of the steps or of my tobacco
Which imparts to me the taste of a haunted ship
With a mermaid crucified, when still beautiful, to the wheel.

(Excerpted from “George Seferis: Poems”, translated from the Greek by Rex Warner, Nonpareil Books, 1960)

The View from the Tower

I often read novels by Latin-American authors in the original Spanish.

I know, I know: at least part of the reason for doing it is just to be able to make statements like that — we all carve out these nuggets of self-esteem where we can find them — but the fact remains that some stars really do shine brighter in the universes that gave them birth.

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Colonel Mustard, in the Library…

One-hundred seventy-one years ago, Edgar Allen Poe published his “Murders in the Rue Morgue”. A genre was born, and I, for one, am thankful. I do love a good detective story, now and then.

Poe’s investigator was an individual named Dupin, a “gentleman” in the most traditional sense of the word, a man of independent means who did not have to work for a living, but who could amuse himself however he chose: in this case, by investigating a sensational murder that he and his companion had been following in the press.

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The Sun Finally Sets on Britannica

Encyclopedia Britannica, I’m going to miss you.

I’ll never forget those long, hot afternoons of my adolescence, huddled with you in the college library, dripping sweat onto overdue term papers, struggling to find words that could compare to yours (but stopping before things got out of hand and I lost a letter grade due to plagiarism.)  World Book, Encyclopedia Americana, they just didn’t compare. They didn’t have the heft, the smooth pages bound so seductively in leather and gold, the splashes of tropical color in the sections on Argentina, on Birds, on Cheese. Studying without you has never been the same.

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Transylvania, Arkansas

There’s something jarring about looking around on a beautiful Spring day and seeing teenagers roaming the sunlit streets in Goth gear. Even after all this time, the black clothes, eyeliner, and prison-white skin all seem better suited to overcast skies and dim, windowless indoor spaces than balmy breezes and tulips. I have no particular issue with the look — I was in high school in the 1970’s, so I have much to answer for myself, as far as teen fashion goes — but I wonder if many of these kids realize where the whole thing started.

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Family Hour

In the interest of broadening my horizons, I’ve spent Oscar month away from movies and reading classic plays, instead. I’m not sure that the experience has been enlightening.

Today I wrapped up with “The Duchess of Malfi”, by English playwright John Webster (written circa 1613). I’m not quite sure what to think. During the course of the play we experience:

  • Four stranglings (the Duchess, her servant, and her two youngest children);
  • Four fatal stabbings (the Duchess’ two brothers, her lover, and her murderer);
  • One case of lycanthrophy (the Duchess’ brother);
  • One poisoning, the result of kissing a specially treated Bible (the mistress of the Duchess’ non-werewolf brother, a Cardinal);
  • A waxwork representation of the Duchess’ lover and children, posed as though murdered (used to torment the Duchess, by her brother);
  • A entire palace full of madmen (also brought there to torment the Duchess, again by her brother); and
  • One ghost.
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Spreading the Ink

When I entered university more than a quarter-century ago, it was with a profound sense of inadequacy: I was a small-town boy from a small-town high school, native of a place that had a church for every fifty-three inhabitants, but didn’t possess a public library or a bookstore. I was not a great student, but I enjoyed learning, and I had gone on to college in the hopes that I could become more than my beginnings might have suggested.

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