Friday, October 1, 2010

Behind the Seen


Murman Kutchava

پشت مشتای رندان

Vladimir Horowitz, b. Oct. 1, 1903 - photographed in 1975 by Richard Avedon, d. Oct. 1, 2004…

Vladimir Horowitz: Frédéric Chopin, Mazurka #20 in D Flat major, Op. 30,3

Vladimir Horowitz (born 1 October, 1903; died 5 November, 1989), performing the Etude in d sharp minor (Op. 8, No. 12) by Alexander Sriabin (1872-1915); Moscow, 1986


Wallace Stevens (born 2 October, 1879; died 2 August, 1955), pictured above in a photograph by Sylvia Salmi (possibly one of the best-known portraits of any American poet)


Weaker and weaker, the sunlight falls
In the afternoon. The proud and the strong
Have departed.

Those that are left are the unaccomplished,
The finally human,
Natives of a dwindled sphere.

Their indigence is an indigence
That is an indigence of the light,
A stellar pallor that hangs on the threads.

Little by little, the poverty
Of autumnal space becomes
A look, a few words spoken.

Each person completely touches us
With what he is and as he is,
In the stale grandeur of annihilation.

—from ‘The Rock,’ in The Collected Poems (1955)

Wallace Stevens: The Man on the Dump

Day creeps down. The moon is creeping up.
The sun is a corbeil of flowers the moon Blanche
Places there, a bouquet. Ho-ho … The dump is full
Of images. Days pass like papers from a press.
The bouquets come here in the papers. So the sun,
And so the moon, both come, and the janitor’s poems
Of every day, the wrapper on the can of pears,
The cat in the paper-bag, the corset, the box
From Esthonia: the tiger chest, for tea.
The freshness of night has been fresh a long time.
The freshness of morning, the blowing of day, one says
That it puffs as Cornelius Nepos reads, it puffs
More than, less than or it puffs like this or that.
The green smacks in the eye, the dew in the green
Smacks like fresh water in a can, like the sea
On a cocoanut—how many men have copied dew
For buttons, how many women have covered themselves
With dew, dew dresses, stones and chains of dew, heads
Of the floweriest flowers dewed with the dewiest dew.
One grows to hate these things except on the dump.

Now, in the time of spring (azaleas, trilliums,
Myrtle, viburnums, daffodils, blue phlox),
Between that disgust and this, between the things
That are on the dump (azaleas and so on)
And those that will be (azaleas and so on),
One feels the purifying change. One rejects
The trash.

That’s the moment when the moon creeps up
To the bubbling of bassoons. That’s the time
One looks at the elephant-colorings of tires.
Everything is shed; and the moon comes up as the moon
(All its images are in the dump) and you see
As a man (not like an image of a man),
You see the moon rise in the empty sky.

One sits and beats an old tin can, lard pail.
One beats and beats for that which one believes.
That’s what one wants to get near. Could it after all
Be merely oneself, as superior as the ear
To a crow’s voice? Did the nightingale torture the ear,
Pack the heart and scratch the mind? And does the ear
Solace itself in peevish birds? Is it peace,
Is it a philosopher’s honeymoon, one finds
On the dump? Is it to sit among mattresses of the dead,
Bottles, pots, shoes and grass and murmur aptest eve:
Is it to hear the blatter of grackles and say
Invisible priest; is it to eject, to pull
The day to pieces and cry stanza my stone?
Where was it one first heard of the truth? The the.


Graham Greene (born 2 October, 1904; died 3 April, 1991), pictured above in his library in a 1951 photograph by Cornell Capa for LIFE

‘Mr. Tench went out to look for his ether cylinder, into the blazing Mexican sun and the bleaching dust. A few vultures looked down from the roof with shabby indifference: he wasn’t carrion yet. A faint feeling of rebellion stirred in Mr. Tench’s heart, and he wrenched up a piece of the road with splintering finger nails and tossed it feebly towards them. One rose and flapped across the town: over the tiny plaza, over the bust of the ex-president, ex-general, ex-human being, over two stalls which sold mineral water, towards the river and the sea. It wouldn’t find anything there: the sharks looked after the carrion on that side. Mr. Tench went on across the plaza.

He said “Buenos dias” to a man with a gun who sat in a small patch of shade against a wall. But it wasn’t like England: the man said nothing at all, just stared malevolently up at Mr. Tench, as if he had never had any dealings with the foreigner, as if Mr. Tench were not responsible for his two gold bicuspid teeth…’
—from the opening of The Power and the Glory (1940)


Alain-Fournier (pen-name of Henri Alban-Fournier) (born 3 October, 1886; died 22 September, 1914) pictured above at nineteen.

From the beginning of Le Grand Meaulnes:

‘Until now, I had never joined my fellow students in running through the streets of the town. I had suffered a hip disorder until 189- , which had made me rather shy and dejected. I can still see myself, chasing the nimble schoolboys in the little streets surrounding the house, as I hopped miserably on one leg…

I was thus rarely allowed to go out. And I remember Millie, who was very proud of me, dragging me back home under forceful blows, having found me limping about, trying to run with the village urchins.

The arrival of Augustin Meaulnes, which coincided with my recovery, was the beginning of a new life.

Prior to his arrival, once classes would end, at four, a long, lonely evening for me would commence. My father would carry the burning coals from the classroom stove to the fireplace in our dining room, and slowly the last few straggling kids would make their way out of the newly chilled schoolroom, where some clouds of smoke still drifted about. Outside, a few kids still played some games, galloping around the courtyard, and then night came and the two students who had swept the class retrieved from the shed their caps and cloaks, and they departed very quickly, their satchels under their arms, leaving the large gate open…

So long as there remained a glimmer of daylight, I stayed deep in the part of the building that served as the Town Hall, shut up in the records storage-room, which was littered with dead flies, and old posters fluttering in the drafts, and I would sit on a large old weighing scale, reading by the light from a window overlooking the garden.

When it grew dark, and as the dogs on the nearby farm would begin to howl and a light would begin to shine through our kitchen window, I at last would head home. My mother would have begun preparing our supper. I would climb three steps on the stairs to the loft, and I would sit there in silence and, with my head resting against the cold bars of the banister, I would watch her light the fire in the narrow kitchen, in the flickering candlelight.

But someone came and took me away from all these pleasures of peaceful childhood. Someone came and blew out the candle that brightened for me my mother’s sweet face, leaning over the evening meal. Someone put out the lamp around which we were a happy family at night, once my father had closed the wooden shutters over the glass-paned doors. And this someone was Augustin Meaulnes, who came soon to be known by the other students as Le Grand Meaulnes.

As soon as he came to board with us, that is to say from the first days of December, the school ceased to be deserted in the evenings, after four. Despite the chill coming through the swinging door of the classroom, and the cries of the street sweepers with their buckets of water, after class there always remained some twenty senior students, from the countryside and from the village, all of whom would crowd around Meaulnes . And there were long discussions and endless disputes, around which I glided with anxiety and exhilaration.

Meaulnes would keep silent, but it was always for his sake that some boisterous student would make his way into the middle of the group, and calling on others to testify to the truth of what he was saying, which they loudly would do, he would then recount a long history of some adventure or raid, to which all the others listened, mouths open, laughing silently.

Sitting on a desk, swinging his legs, Meaulnes would appear to reflect on what he heard. At certain humorous moments, he would laugh, too, but just a bit, as if he were reserving his laughter for some better story, known only to himself. Then, as night would begin to fall, when the light still coming through classroom windows was no longer enough to illuminate the chaotic group of students, Meaulnes would rise suddenly, and pressing his was through the circle, he would shout: “Come on!”

Then everyone would follow him and you could heard their shouts in the dark night, even at the other end of the neighborhood…

Sometimes I would accompany them. With Meaulnes, I might go to the door of the stables in the village, at a time when the cows were being milked… Or we might go into shops, and from the depths of the darkness, between two cracks of his loom, the weaver would say: “So here are the students!”

Normally, around midday, we would be found not far from the school, in the workshop of Desnoues, the wheelwright, who was also the master farrier. His shop was in an old building that had once been an inn, with large double doors that were often left open. From the street one could hear creaking of the forge bellows, and one could see the glow from the blaze, in this obscure and clattering place, where sometimes one might also find some country people who had stopped their carriage to chat a moment, or sometimes another school boy like us, leaning against one of the doors, watching silently.

And that’s where it all began, about eight days before Christmas…’

—from Le Grand Meaulnes (1913; translation from the French my own)


Buster Keaton caught in a very Beckettian moment…

Photo: Loomis Dean, 1955 - LIFE

The ‘one-room house’ scene from The Scarecrow, a 1920 film written and directed by Buster Keaton (born 4 October, 1895; died 1 February, 1966) and Edward F. Cline (1891-1961)


Born on Oct. 4, 1891 - killed in action in WW I - Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, French sculptor and painter…

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska: Self-Portrait, 1912 - pencil (National Portrait Gallery, London)

The French-born sculptor moved to London in 1911 and worked at the Omega Workshops from 1913. Although his best known work is based on human and animal forms he was involved with Vorticism from the outset and his work was much influenced by machine imagery. He was killed in action while serving with the French army at Neuville-Saint-Vaast.

(NPG caption)

Watch Ken Russell’s great film Savage Messiah…!


Giambattista Piranesi (Oct. 4, 1720 - 1778) was an Italian artist famous for his etchings of Rome and of fictitious and atmospheric “prisons” (Carceri d’Invenzione).

Piranesi: Carceri d’invenzione: Plate XI: The Arch with a Shell Ornament (Later State), 1749–50 and 1761 - Etching on 18th-century laid paper (Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia)


Anne Sexton, American confessional poet - died this day in 1974, (November 9, 1928, Newton, Massachusetts – October 4, 1974, Weston, Massachusetts) committing suicide by carbon monoxicide poisoning…

Wanting to Die

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.

Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.

But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.

Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, his magic.

In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.

I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.

Still-born, they don’t always die,
but dazzled, they can’t forget a drug so sweet
that even children would look on and smile.

To thrust all that life under your tongue!—
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death’s a sad bone; bruised, you’d say,

and yet she waits for me, year after year,
to so delicately undo an old wound,
to empty my breath from its bad prison.

Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit a pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,

leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love whatever it was, an infection.

Anne reading her Pulitzer winning 1966 volume, Live or Die


Curtis Fox and CA Conrad explore the dark undertow of Anne Sexton’s poetry on Poetry Off the Shelf including “Portrait of an Old Woman on the College Tavern Wall” and “The Double Image”. Conrad’s intimate recollection of the essential place of Sexton’s “grief landscapes” in his life and the pleasure of coming back to a poet who helped him survive the heartbreak of lost friends and the brutality of youth gets to the heart of why we read poetry.

“I said, the poets are there

I hear them singing and lying

around their round table

and around me still.

Across the room is a wreath

made of a corpse’s hair,

framed in glass on the wall,

as old as old is able

to be and be remembered still.

Did you hear what it said?”

-From “Portrait of an Old Woman on the College Tavern Wall”


Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch Old Master - died this day in 1669, (July 15, 1606 – October 4, 1669) having outlived both his wife and their son. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Amsterdam’s Westerkerk church…

Ill. - Rembrandt: Menasseh Ben Israel, etching, 1936 - National Portrait Gallery, London


Glenn Gould, extraordinary Canadian pianist, writer and polymath - died this day in 1982, (September 25, 1932 – October 4, 1982) follwing a stroke brought on by years of self/overmedication due to hypochondria…

Photo: Glenn onboard that leaving train, northbound…

Glenn Gould - piano

(Recorded in NYC, 1968)

Orlando Gibbons: “Lord of Salisbury”; Pavan (Canon in 2) and Galliard, G Major, No. 6.


Richard Rorty (Oct. 4, 1931 - 2007) was an American philospher and critic, whose development from analytic philosophy via pragmatism to an original scientific and scepticist (‘ironist’) position on the role of philosophy as identity constructor makes him one of the most significant thinkers in the 20th C.

Shortly before his death from cancer Rorty revisited the role of poetry in one’s life and death:

“‘Hasn’t anything you’ve read been of any use?’ my son persisted. ‘Yes,’ I found myself blurting out, ‘poetry.’ ‘Which poems?’ he asked. I quoted two old chestnuts that I had recently dredged up from memory and been oddly cheered by, the most quoted lines of Swinburne’s “Garden of  Proserpine”:

We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

and Landor’s “On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday”:

Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of life,
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

I found comfort in those slow meanders and those stuttering embers. I suspect that no comparable effect could have been produced by prose. Not just imagery, but also rhyme and rhythm were needed to do the job. In lines such as these, all three conspire to produce a degree of compression, and thus of  impact, that only verse can achieve. Compared to the shaped charges contrived by versifiers, even the best prose is scattershot.” (Source: Poetry)


Flann O’Brien (pen-name of Brian O’Nolan) (born 5 October, 1911; died 1 April, 1966), pictured above in a photograph taken in 1942

From The Third Policeman, wherein the narrator, who is searching for a lost black cash-box, has just awakened from a brief sleep while on his way to the police barracks (he is hoping to engage some policemen in his search for the missing box):

‘When I awoke again it was later in the day and a small man was sitting beside me watching me. He was tricky and smoked a tricky pipe and his hand was quavery. His eyes were tricky also, probably from watching policemen. They were very unusual eyes. There was no palpable divergence in their alignment but they seemed to be incapable of giving a direct glance at anything that was straight, whether or not their curious incompatibility was suitable for looking at crooked things. I knew he was watching me only by the way his head was turned; I could not meet his eyes or challenge them. He was small and poorly dressed and on his head was a cloth cap of pale salmon color. He kept his head in my direction without speaking and I found his presence disquieting. I wondered how long he had been watching me before I awoke.
Watch your step here. A very slippery-looking customer.

I put my hand into my pocket to see if my wallet was there. It was, smooth and warm like the hand of a good friend. When found that I had not been robbed, I decided to talk to him genially and civilly, see who he was and ask him to direct me to the barracks. I made up my mind not to despise the assistance of anyone who could help me, in however small a way, to find the black box. I gave him the time of day and, so far as I could, a look as intricate as any he could give himself.

“More luck to you,” I said.

“More power to yourself,” he answered dourly.

Ask him his name and occupation and inquire what is his destination.

“I do not desire to be inquisitive, sir,” I said, “but would it be true to mention that you are a bird-catcher?”

“Not a bird-catcher,” he answered.

“A tinker?”

“Not that.”

“A man on a journey?”

No, not that.”

“A fiddler?”

“Not that one.”

I smiled at him in good-humoured perplexity and said:

“Tricky-looking man, you are hard to place and it is not easy to guess your station. You seem very contented in one way but then again you do not seem to be satisfied. What is your objection to life?”

He blew little bags of smoke at me and looked at me closely from behind the bushes of hair which were growing about his eyes.

“Is it life?” he answered. ”I would rather be without it,” he said, “for there is a queer small utility in it. You cannot eat it or drink it or smoke it in your pipe, it does not keep the rain out and it is a poor armful in the dark if you strip it and take it to bed with you after a night of porter when you are shivering with the red passion. It is a great mistake and a thing better done without, like bed-jars and foreign bacon.”

“That is a nice way to be talking on this grand lively day,” I chided, “when the sun is roaring in the sky and sending great tidings into our weary bones.”

“Or like feather-beds,” he continued, “or bread manufactured with powerful steam machinery. Is it life you say? Life?”

—from The Third Policeman (1939-1940)


Denis Diderot (October 5, 1713 – July 31, 1784), pictured above in the 1769 portrait by Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), now in the collection of the Musée du Louvre, Paris

‘The first promise exchanged by two beings of flesh was at the foot of a rock that was crumbling into dust; they took as witness for their constancy a sky that is not the same for a single instant; everything changed in them and around them, and they believed their hearts free of vicissitudes. O children! always children!’

—from Jacques le Fataliste (1796)


Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the most acclaimed writers in the Spanish-speaking world who once ran for president in his homeland, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.

The Swedish Academy said it honored the 74-year-old author "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat."

Vargas Llosa has written more than 30 novels, plays and essays, including "Conversation in the Cathedral" and "The Green House." In 1995, he was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor.

His international breakthrough came with the 1960s novel "The Time of The Hero," which builds on his experiences from the Peruvian military academy Leoncio Prado. The book was considered controversial in his homeland and a thousand copies were burnt publicly by officers from the academy.

Vargas Llosa is the first South American winner of the prestigious 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) Nobel Prize in literature since it was awarded to Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 1982.

In the previous six years, the academy rewarded five Europeans and one Turk, sparking criticism that it was too euro-centric.

Born in Arequipa, Peru, Vargas Llosa grew up with his grandparents in Bolivia after his parents divorced, the academy said. The family moved back to Peru in 1946 and he later went to military school before studying literature and law in Lima and Madrid.

In 1959, he moved to Paris where he worked as a language teacher and as a journalist for Agence France-Presse and the national television service of France.

He has lectured and taught at a number of universities in the U.S., South America and Europe. He is teaching this semester at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J.

In 1990, he ran for the presidency but lost the election to Alberto Fujimori. In 1994 he was elected to the Spanish Academy, where he took his seat in 1996.


The Gigue, from the Cello Suite No. 3, probably composed some time between 1717 and 1720 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), here performed by Yo-Yo Ma (born October, 1955), with the Mark Morris Dance Group, in a dance work choreographed by Mark Morris, for a 1997 film entitled Falling Down Stairs, directed by Barbara Willis Sweete


Takemitsu in a photograph late in life by Guy Vivien

Rain Spell, composed in 1983 by Tōru Takemitsu (born 8 October, 1930; died 20 February, 1996); performed here by the Toronto New Music Ensemble: Robert Aitkin, flute; Joaquin Valdepeñas, clarinet; Erica Goodman, harp; David Swan, piano; Robin Engelman, vibraphone; in a 2001 recording for Naxos

‘Music is either sound or silence. As long as I live I shall choose sound as something to confront a silence. That sound should be a single, strong sound.’

—Tōru Takemitsu, 1962


‘Alleluja! Lobet den Herrn,’ one of the Psalmen David, composed in the 1620s by Heinrich Schütz (born 8 October 8 [Julian Calendar], 1585; died 6 November, 1672); performed here by La Chapelle Rhenane, Benoit Haller conductor, at
La folle journée de Nantes 2009


Asya and Marina, 1913

Marina Tsvetaeva (born 8 October, 1892; died 31 August 1941)

I Ask the Mirror for a Glimpse

I ask the mirror for a glimpse
Into a dream obscured
I need to know—where your path leads
Your final destiny.

Then I see: the mast of a ship,
And you—are on the deck …
You—in train-engine mist … meadows
In evening lament …

The evening meadows draped in dew,
Above them—crows in flight …
I bless you, go, wherever
You may like!

(May 3, 1915; translated from the Russian by Rachel Winokur)


Ivo Andrić (born 9 October, 1892; died 13 March, 1975), pictured above in front of the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge (constructed in 1571) over the River Drina in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina

‘Osatica. A town on a plateau, but the plateau is surrounded on all sides with high mountains and their bare, karsitic slopes. So both parties are right: those Osaticans who claim that their town is on a hill, as well as those who say that it is in a hole. But in spite of conflicting opinions they all have one thing in common: all the Osaticans are born with an aspiration for heights and even the most unassuming and the humblest of them want to climb at least a span higher than they are. To climb higher and to have it seen and known. Those who are no good for anything else at least dream of climbing and tell stories about it. And this desire for climbing of all sorts and at all costs, for the illusion of height, never leaves them until their death—which is the end of all desires and, for the Osaticans, a kind of last and very special climbing. This craving is handed down from old to young, from one generation to the next.

And as regards this Osatican “climbing urge” there is no difference between Moslem and Christian—though there is little else in which the two Osatican denominations agree: they even live in separate parts of town…’

—from the beginning of ‘The Climbers’ (translated by Svetozar Koljević)


Everybody Needs Somebody ~ Solomon Burke

RIP King Solomon….sad news this morning of the passing of one the greats of Soul, Mr. Solomon Burke. It was his version of ‘Just Out of Reach’ that hit with the idea of how close R’n’B, Blues was to so called Country and Western music…..I first heard a version of this tune at a live concert by the Stones and then when back on North American side of the pond, I saw Solomon live in Philly. His live performances were also the mark of his massive talent, part preacher on stage and part deep soul singer. Just like a lot of great musicians he passed away on his way to a gig in Holland. It is sadly ironic but I was speaking with Julia Cunningham, his Soul Harpist, on the blower just a few weeks ago. We will miss him so much.

Solomon Burke: Can’t Nobody Love You (1964) - from Rock’n’Soul


Giuseppe Verdi (likely born 10 October, 1813; died 27 January, 1901)

‘The eleventh of October 1813 was joyful day for the Verdis of Roncole […] Carlo Verdi, the older brother, then 28, brought for baptism the first child born to Luigia Uttini in almost nine years of marriage. Giuseppe Verdi, their son, had been born one or two days before. Presiding over the ceremonies was Don Carlo Arcari, the Provost, middle-aged and ill […] According to an account of this baptism by Giuseppe Demaldè of Busseto, Pietro Casali [a godparent] had hired a band of local musicians to play that day. They struck up a lively tune as they accompanied the guests back to the Verdis’ tavern, where Marco and Carlo laid the feast for the double holiday. The mother of the new-born put her baby to the breast, for she neither wanted nor needed a wet-nurse. Because they were taverners, it was no chore for the Verdis to serve large numbers of people, for they catered many banquets for laymen and clergy. Some descendants of Marco Verdi still operated a restaurant and bar in Roncole until the mid-1960s, when the finally gave up the ‘Bar Verdi’ and opened a hotel in a spa above Fidenza.’

—from Verdi: A Biography, by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz (1993)

Tu che le vanità,’ from the opera Don Carlo, composed by Giuseppe Verdi (likely born 10 October, 1813; died 27 January, 1901) using a libretto by Camille du Locle and Joseph Méry (based on the play by Schiller), and first performed (in French) in 1867; performed here in concert by Maria Callas (1923-1977)



Messa da Requiem - “Dies Irae” - Giuseppe Verdi


Gilles, painted c. 1718-1719 by Jean-Antoine Watteau (born 10 October, 1684; died 18 July, 1721); in the collection of the Musée du Louvre, Paris

‘Gilles is a study in solitude. He stands away from the crowd. He is officially one of them - his costume tells us that - yet he feels separate, maybe lovelorn, in any case ill at ease in his ill-fitting costume: his sleeves are too long, ruffled massively at the elbow where he has pulled them up, while his trousers are too short and expose his ankles.

He faces us flatly and with a shining, innocent radiance on his reflective satin suit. It is as if he wants us to tell him what to do, to give him animation, movement. His direct return of our look is bizarre and troubling, as is his wide, almost two-dimensional presence in front of the landscape. It is almost as if he were a wooden cut-out, like the painted wooden figure of a yokel that the British rococo painter Thomas Gainsborough once made.’

—Jonathan Jones, writing in The Guardian, 2003


Harold Pinter (born 10 October, 1930; died 24 December, 2008), pictured above with Antonia Fraser in a 1979 photograph

‘I might even show you my photograph album. You might even see a face in it which might remind you of your own, of what you once were. You might see faces of others, in shadow, or cheeks of others, turning, or jaws, or backs of necks, or eyes, dark under hats, which might remind you of others, whom once you knew, whom you thought long dead, but from whom you will still receive a sidelong glance, if you can face the good ghost. Allow the love of the good ghost. They possess all that emotion … trapped. Bow to it. It will assuredly never release them, but who knows … what relief … it may give them … who knows how they may quicken … in their chains, in their glass jars. You think it cruel … to quicken them, when they are fixed, imprisoned? No … no. Deeply, deeply, they wish to respond to your touch, to your look, and when you smile, their joy … is unbounded. And so I say to you, tender the dead, as you would yourself be tendered, now, in what you would describe as your life.’

—from Act 2 of No Man’s Land (1975); this passage was read at Pinter’s funeral, in accordance with his request


One of the biggest names in world music: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pakistani qawwali, or Sufi trance vocalist, was born Oct. 13, 1948 (d. 1997, way before his time…)

Khan’s recorded output is c. 125 albums!


Kab Yaad Mein Tera Saath - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Manam Mahway Khiyal-I-Oo

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
The Final Studio Recording


October 14 was the birthday of the great American poet e.e. cummings (1894 - 1962). A pacifist, cummings was interred during WW I. Poetically he sucked up influences from Dada, symbolism, and imagist poets. Some of his forms are traditional, sonnet-like, but his poetic syntax and orthography is always challenging. He is among the most popular Modernist poets.


i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

— e.e. cummings

E.E. Cummings reads his own “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town”.


Subtle short story writer Katherine Mansfield was born Oct. 14, 1888 in New Zealand. Mansfield moved to London in 1903, where she attended Queen’s College where she began writing in earnest (and exploring her bisexual orientation). Her earliest inspiration came from the works of the French Symbolists and Oscar Wilde. Mansfield died quite young, from tuberculosis (1923)…

Hannah Arendt (Oct. 14, 1906 - 1975), the preeminent woman philosopher (or, as she herself preferred: political theorist) of the 20th C.

Arendt was Jewish, German-born and originally a student of Heidegger, whom she rebelled against in part because of his anti-semitism and Nazi sympathies. She befriended Walter Benjamin and worked with him in Paris. She succeeded in escaping to the US, where she later acquired citizenship.

Hannah Arendt’s philosophical work examines power relations between human groups and forms of authority and oppression. She favours collectivism and freedom to act over control and individual agency…

“Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance.” — H.A.


Oct. 14 is also the birthday of avant-garde composer La Monte Young (born 1935), whose Fluxus-like work is both Minimalist and highly performative, questioning the very role of the composer and of music.

Young was a pioneer of electronic music in the late 50s and later absorbed multiple Oriental music forms in his work - gamelan, raga, chants… He uses the word ‘dream’ more frequently than any other word in his compositions’ titles.

La Monte Young: Dream House (1973) - from Fluxus Anthology


Silent film diva Lillian Gish was born on Oct. 14, 1893 (she died at age 99 in 1993). She starred in many movies, memorably in Griffith’s epic Birth of a Nation (1915)

Photo: The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts / Billy Rose Theatre Division


Astonishing nudes by Ruth Bernhard, German-born photographer (Oct. 14, 1905) who lived to be 101 years old…

Ruth Bernhard: Female Nude with Crossed Arms, 1960s - Silver print


Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (Oct. 15, 1844 – 1900)…

“Men were thought of as free so that they could become guilty: consequently, every action had to be thought of as willed, the origin of every action as lying in the consciousness… …Today, when we have started to move in the reverse direction, when we immoralists especially are trying with all our might to remove the concept of guilt and the concept of punishment from the world and to purge psychology, history, nature, the social institutions and sanctions of them, there is in our eyes no more radical opposition than that of the theologians, who continue to infect the innocence of becoming with ‘punishment’ and ‘guilt’ by means of the concept of the ‘moral world-order’. Christianity is a hangman’s metaphysics.” Twilight of the Idols: The Four Great Errors

Photo - Hans Olde: Der Kranke Nietzsche, 1899


Oct. 15, 1783 marked the day of the first ascent in a balloon by a human being…

Montgolfier Bros. design…


One of most playful postmodern writers, Italo Calvino, was born on Oct. 15, 1923 (d. 1985). Often his novels take the form of convoluted, self-referential metafictions.

A little Calvino paradox:

“The satirist is prevented by repulsion from gaining a better knowledge of the world he is attracted to, yet he is forced by attraction to concern himself with the world that repels him.”


Sir Thomas Browne (born 19 October, 1605; died 19 October 1682), pictured above with his wife, Lady Dorothy Browne (1621-1685), in a double portrait (likely made around 1650) by Joan Carlile (c.1606-1679) (often considered to be the first Englishwoman to have been a professional painter); in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London

‘How the bulk of a man should sink into so few pounds of bones and ashes, may seem strange unto any who considers not its constitution, and how slender a masse will remain upon an open and urging fire of the carnall composition. Even bones themselves reduced in to ashes, do abate a notable proportion. And consisting much of a volatile salt, when that is fired out, make a light kind of cinders. Although their bulk be disproportionable to their weight, when the heavy principle of Salt is fired out, and the Earth almost only remaineth; Observable in sallow, which makes more Ashes then Oake; and discovers the common fraud of selling Ashes by measure, and not by ponderation.

Some bones make best Skeletons, some bodies quick and speediest ashes: Who would expect a quick flame from Hydropicall Heraclitus? The poysoned Souldier when his Belly brake, put out two pyres in Plutarch. But in the plague ofAthens, one private pyre served two or three Intruders; and the Saracens burnt in large heaps, by the King of Castile, shewed how little Fuell sufficeth. Though the Funerall pyre of Patroclus took up an hundred foot, a peece of an old boat burnt Pompey; And if the burthen of Isaac were sufficient for an holocaust, a man may carry his owne pyre.

From animals are drawn good burning lights, and good medicines against burning; Though the seminall humour seems of a contrary nature to fire, yet the body compleated proves a combustible lump, wherein fire findes flame even from bones, and some fuell almost from all parts. Though the Metropolis of humidity seems least disposed unto it, which might render the sculls of these Urnes lesse burned then other bones. But all flies or sinks before fire almost in all bodies: When the common ligament is dissolved, the attenuable parts ascend, the rest subside in coal, calx or ashes.

To burn the bones of the King of Edon for Lyme, seems no irrationall ferity; But to drink of the ashes of dead relations, a passionate prodigality. He that hath the ashes of his friend, hath an everlasting treasure: where fire taketh leave, corruption slowly enters; In bones well burnt, fire makes a wall against it self; experimented in copels, and tests of metals, which consist of such ingredients. What the Sun compoundeth, fire analyseth, not transmuteth. That devouring agent leaves almost allwayes a morsell for the Earth, whereof all things are but a colonie; and which, if time permits, the mother Element will have in their primitive masse again.’

—from Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk (1658)


Guatemalan novelist Miguel Ángel Asturias, the winner of the 1967 Nobel Literature Prize “for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin America,” was born Oct. 19, 1899 (d. 1974)…

Asturias’ novels are directly political and his realism is not so tinged with the Latin American ‘magical’ tradition: El Señor Presidente, Men of Maize and The Banana Trilogy all side with the poor and disenfranchised Indian workers and criticize fascism and power abuse.

Photo: Pierre Boulat, 1967 - LIFE


Son House: Death Letter Blues - live…

The blues possessed him like a ‘lowdown shaking chill’ and the spellbound audience saw the very incarnation of the blues as, head thrown back, he hollered and groaned the disturbing lyrics and flailed the guitar, snapping the strings back against the fingerboard to accentuate the agonized rhythm.” — Bob Groom


Robert Pinsky was born on October 20, 1940 in Long Branch, New Jersey...[Wiki]

Robert Pinsky - from Essay on Psychiatrists

X. Dionysus As Psychiatrist

In a more hostile view, the psychiatrists
Are like Bacchus—the knowing smirk of his mask,
His patients, his confident guidance of passion,

And even his little jokes, as when the great palace
Is hit by lightning which blazes and stays,
Bouncing among the crumpled stone walls …

And through the burning rubble he comes,
With his soft ways picking along lightly
With a calm smile for the trembling Chorus

Who have fallen to the ground, bowing
In the un-Greek, Eastern way—What, Asian women,
He asks, Were you disturbed just now when Bacchus

Jostled the palace? He warns Pentheus to adjust,
To learn the ordinary man’s humble sense of limits,
Violent limits, to the rational world. He cures

Pentheus of the grand delusion that the dark
Urgencies can be governed simply by the mind,
And the mind’s will. He teaches Queen Agave to look

Up from her loom, up at the light, at her tall
Son’s head impaled on the stiff spear clutched
In her own hand soiled with dirt and blood.

Photo of Pinsky, apparently channeling a night-club act, brat-pack era…


Shirt by Robert Pinsky

The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams,
The nearly invisible stitches along the collar
Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians

Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break
Or talking money or politics while one fitted
This armpiece with its overseam to the band

Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,
The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,
The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes—

The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another. As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

A third before he dropped her put her arms
Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once

He stepped up to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers—

Like Hart Crane’s Bedlamite, “shrill shirt ballooning.”
Wonderful how the patern matches perfectly
Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked

Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme
Or a major chord. Prints, plaids, checks,
Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans

Inspired by mill-owners inventing it from the hoax of Ossian,
To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed
By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor,

Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers
to wear among the dusty clattering looms.
Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader,

The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter
Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton
As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:

George Herbert, your descendant is a Black
Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma
And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit

And feel and its clean smell have satisfied
both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality
Down to the buttons of simulated bone,

The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters
Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape,
The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.


Oct. 20, 1854 was the day of Arthur Rimbaud’s birth. The archetypal enfant terrible, Rimbaud flared into wild abandon early in his life and his poetry. At 21 he had already given up on writing, at 37 he was dead from cancer.

Arthur Rimbaud: A Dream for Winter

In the winter, we shall travel in a little pink railway carriage
With blue cushions.
We shall be comfortable. A nest of mad kisses lies in wait
In each soft corner.

You will close your eyes, so as not to see, through the glass,
The evening shadows pulling faces.
Those snarling monsters, a population
Of black devils and black wolves.

Then you’ll feel your cheek scratched…
A little kiss, like a crazy spider,
Will run round your neck…

And you’ll say to me : “Find it !” bending your head
- And we’ll take a long time to find that creature
- Which travels a lot…

In a railway carriage, October 7, 70

Photo: Étienne Carjat, c. 1871


Van Morrison: Tore Down à la Rimbaud - from Sense of Wonder, 1985


Beat and Zen poet Philip Whalen - Oct. 20, 1923 - 2002:

Complaint: To the Muse by Philip Whalen

You do understand I’ve waited long enough
There’s nobody else that interests me more than a minute
I’ve got no more ambition to shop around for poems or love
Come Back!
or at least answer your telephone
I’m nowhere without you

This is the greatest possible drag
Slower than the speed of light or always
A little less than critical mass

The energy the steam the poop is here
Everything is (by Nature) Energy, I myself
A natural thing & certainly massive enough

A block of lead (the end of all radiation)
I don’t even reflect much daylight, not to speak of
glowing in the dark
I’ll never get it off the ground

(Photo: Alastair Johnston)


Philip Whalen reads his poem “Vision of the Bodhisattva” and a few others. What a difference hearing them makes.


Elfriede Jelinek (born 20 October, 1946), in a photograph by Josef Polleross (Copyright © Josef Polleross)



my sparrows

let go

the snow

into fields of carnations swollen with anger.


the three popes


the revolution

against teenage television.

seals smash

their heads


their heads

on the elevators

the paternoster elevators

which delays the holding of their conference.


my sister

the wind’s bride

gives blood

for the cello

of the jericho desert

which prompts the trombones

to hold a protest meeting.


I hang your lips

like birdseed

outside my door

and observe

through the window

their death-struggle

with the she vulture.


let go

the snow

(appeared originally in a 2007 issue of Poetry; translated from the German by Michael Hofmann)


Samuel Taylor Coleridge (born 21 October, 1772; died 25 July, 1834), pictured above in a chalk and pencil drawing made in 1796 by Robert Hancock (1731-1817); in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London

Frost at Midnight

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,

Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

—first published in 1798, in the Lyrical Ballads, by Coleridge and William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

The Transcendental Etude No. 10, in f minor, composed and revised between the 1820s and late 1840s by Franz Liszt (born 22 October, 1811; died 31 July, 1886), and first published (in this form) in 1852; performed here by the great 20th-century interpreter of Liszt, Georges Cziffra (1921-1994)


Buste, a 1970 painting by Pablo Picasso (born 25 October, 1881; died 8 April, 1973); private collection (© PAR Photo Marc Domage)


Benjamin Constant (born 25 October, 1767; died 8 December, 1830), pictured above in the portrait by Hercule de Roches

‘I was twenty-two and had just finished my studies at Gottingen. —The intention of my father, an elector and minister of __________, was that I should see the most noteworthy countries of Europe. He subsequently wished to have me return to him, so that I might enter into the department he directed, and, in time, replace him. During my studies, in the midst of a quite dissipated life, I had obtained, thanks to a rather bold and opinionated way of working, some success that set me apart from my colleagues, and which gave my father some somewhat exaggerated hopes for my future.

These hopes caused him to be indulgent toward wrongs I had done. He made sure that I never suffered the consequences of my errors. He always gave me what I required, sometimes even before I asked, in such circumstances.

Unhappily my father was more noble and more generous than he was tender. To the core of my being I felt a duty toward him, and respect, but we were never close. His character possessed something ironic that did not sit well with me. I wanted nothing more than to free myself from these primitive and fleeting impressions that separate one from the common sphere, and which inspired in my father a disdain for all of the objects that surrounded him. I found in my father, not a censor, but a cold and caustic observer who smiled almost always out of pity, and who was impatient to end any conversation as quickly as possible. I cannot remember, during my first eighteen years, ever having spoken with my father for as long as an hour. His letters to me were always affectionate, full of advice, reasonable, and sensible; but as soon as we were in the presence of one another he would seem constrained by something, something that I could not understand but which caused a painful reaction in me. I did not know then that this was timidity, that inner disease that pursues some of us even into our most advanced years, keeping crowded around our heart our deepest feelings, freezing our speech, seizing our mouth and all that we try to say, preventing us from expressing ourselves except by the vaguest of words or with a more or less bitter sense of irony, as if we wished to avenge ourselves even on our feelings of pain caused by their very inability to be communicated. I did not know that, even with his son, my father was a timid man, and that often, after having long awaited from me some signs of affection, which his apparent coldness seemed to prohibit me from giving, he would depart from me with moist eyes, and would tell others that I felt no love for him.

The constraint I felt around my father had a strong influence on my character. No less timid than he, but more agitated because I was young, I became accustomed to keeping closed up within myself all that I felt, to making plans only for myself, to counting only on myself, to considering others’ opinions, others’ interests, others’ assistance, and, in the end, even simply the presence of others, as an annoyance and an obstacle. I formed the habits of never speaking of that which I was thinking most, of never entering into conversation except when absolutely necessary and only then in a spirit of perpetual joking, which I found less tiring and which helped to conceal my real thoughts. Hence a certain want of candidness for which even today my friends reproach me, and a difficulty with speaking seriously that I cannot seem to overcome. At the same time, there grew within me an ardent desire for independence, a tremendous impatience with the ties binding me, and an invincible terror of forming new ones. I did not feel at ease except when I was completely alone, and this disposition of soul remains with me to this day, to the extent, even in the most inconsequential circumstances, when I must choose among two alternatives, the human presence disturbs me, and my natural tendency is to flee so as to think over things in peace. I did not possess, however, that certain depth of egoism that this sort of character often suggests: though I was interested only in myself, I did not find myself so interesting. I carried in my heart a need for sensuality that I did not acknowledge, but which, finding no satisfaction, withdrew successively from all of the objects around me that would have aroused my curiosity. This growing indifference was strengthened by the thought of death, a thought that struck me very young; from early on, I had never been able to understand why men speak about death so little. At the age of seventeen, I had seen an elderly woman die before my eye, a woman with such an unusual mind, with such a bizarre and remarkable looking at the world, that she had begun to influence my own. This woman, like so many women, had commenced her career by launching herself at the world, about which she knew nothing at all, like a powerful force of nature. And as with many others like her, due to inevitable facts and necessities, she saw her hopes dashed, and her youth pass without real pleasure; and age finally overtook her and forced her to submit. She lived in a chateau next to our property, unhappy and secluded, with only her thoughts as company, and analyzing everything with her sharp mind. For nearly a year, over the course of our endless discussions, we looked at life from every angle, with the thought of death always looming at the end; and, after talking so much about death with her, I saw death take her in front of my eyes.’
—from Adolphe (1816; my translation from the French)


The Sonata in D (K 96) by Domenico Scarlatti (born 26 October, 1685; died 23 July, 1757), performed here by Georges Cziffra (1921-1994)


Oct. 27, 1914 was the birthday of great-hearted, Welsh poet (and celebrated drunkard) Dylan Thomas (d. 1953). Possessor of one of the great reading voices of the 20th century Dylan Thomas was famous for his reading tours in both the US and Europe. He died in New York, where he was performing in his own play Under Milk Wood…

Photo: John Gay, 1948 - bromide fiber print (NPG, London) (During the Second World War, Thomas was a regular broadcaster on BBC radio)

Dylan Thomas, from Deaths and Entrances, 1946:

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.


Sylvia Plath: Edge

The woman is perfected.
Her dead
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare
Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden
Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.
The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

(Plath completed this poem on Feb. 4, 1963. She committed suicide on Feb.11… )

The other poetical birthday on Oct. 27 is that of Sylvia Plath - forever remembered for her suicide in 1963. Plath was born in in 1932 and didn’t make it much past 30 before she gassed herself to death in her apartment…

Her poetry and prose writings (the novel The Bell Jar) had already dealt obsessively with questions of mental illness, death and suicide. Her poetry had become increasingly personal and confessional, but was elevated from the banal by her startling language in metahphors and juxtapositions - for instance comparing her own upbringing to images from the Holocaust in her poem “Daddy”.

Photo of a radiant Sylvia on her honeymoon in Paris with her husband, poet Ted Hughes, 1956…


Ezra Pound: The Garret

COME let us pity those who are better off than
we are.
Come, my friend, and remember
that the rich have butlers and no friends,
And we have friends and no butlers.
Come let us pity the married and the unmarried.

Dawn enters with little feet
like a gilded Pavlova,
And I am near my desire.
Nor has life in it aught better
Than this hour of clear coolness,
the hour of waking together.

(Lustra, 1916)

Oct. 30 also marks the birthday of troubled, brilliant poet Ezra Pound (1885 - 1972) - sometimes mad, sometimes a fascist and an anti-semite…

Pound helped T.S. Eliot fashion The Waste Land, formulated the principles of Imagism and Vorticism, and was in many ways “the center of modernism” as Hugh Kenner labeled him. In 1915 he commenced his lifelong process of writing The Cantos, an attempt to crystallize all human knowledge (history and geography) and ideology into one work…

Ezra Pound: from Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920)

THERE died a myriad,

And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

Photo via Alfred Knopf, collections of the NYPL


Ruth Gordon (Oct. 30, 1896 – 1985) was a brilliant Oscar-winning American actress who had a film career that stretched for almost 70 years…

Photo of a young Ruth, early 1920s…


Paul Valéry, French Symbolist poet and public intellectual, was born Oct. 30, 1871 (d. 1945)…

Paul Valéry: from The Graveyard by the Sea

Now present here, the future takes its time.
The brittle insect scrapes at the dry loam;
All is burnt up, used up, drawn up in air
To some ineffably rarefied solution …
Life is enlarged, drunk with annihilation,
And bitterness is sweet, and the spirit clear.

The dead lie easy, hidden in earth where they
Are warmed and have their mysteries burnt away.
Motionless noon, noon aloft in the blue
Broods on itself — a self-sufficient theme.

— transl. by Cecil Day Lewis


Fyodor Dostoevsky, who once was brought to the scaffold in order to be executed, only to be pardoned in the last minute, was born Oct. 30, 1821 (old style Russian dates - d. 1881). His writings were obsessed with the twists and turns of human psychology, particularly its extremes: the motivations, and potentially justifications, for suicide, murder, patricide etc.

“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

Photo: LIFE Archives…


French film director, Louis Malle was born October 30, 1932 (d. 1995), and directed a number of lyrical French films and a bunch of minor Hollywood movies.

Of these works many addressed transgressive subjects: The Fire Within (“Le Feu follet”) (1963) centres on a man about to commit suicide, Murmur of the Heart (1971) deals with an incestuous relationship between mother and son and Lacombe Lucien (1974) is about collaboration with the Nazis in Vichy France in World War II.

In a US context it is particularly the 1958 film The Lovers (Les Amants) which has brought Malle fame as, due to its sexual content, it led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case regarding the legal definition of obscenity…


We celebrate poet John Keats’ birthday today: Oct. 31, 1795 - 1821; dead at 25 from tuberculosis…

Keats’ cockney accent hampered him socially, but not in his lyrical quest for truth and beauty…

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art —
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors —
No — yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever — or else swoon to death.

Painting of Keats by William Hilton, c. 1822 - oil on canvas (National Portrait Gallery, London)


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