The Bibliothecary
September 2006
The Omnigatherum

The Bibliothecary

Pipe and Book

Friday, September 29, 2006
There's a new Robert Frost poem on the way, to be published next week in the Virginia Quarterly Review.  And it's about
time.  Frost's output has been a bit fallow as of late, don't you think?
 From the AP:

An unpublished Robert Frost poem, a tribute to a friend killed during World War I, has been rediscovered and will appear next week
in the fall issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, the University of Virginia announced Wednesday.
"War Thoughts at Home" first emerged in 1918 when Frost inscribed it in a copy of "North of Boston," his second collection. The
poem was not seen again until a graduate student at the University of Virginia, Robert Stilling, recently spotted "War Thoughts"
while looking through some Frost papers.

You can hear an interview with Stillig on the
NPR show,
Here and Now.  If you play the
"Listen to the show" option, skip to 27:00 for
the Frost story.  And let's hope we don't have
to wait another forty years for a new Frost
poem.  Come on, scholars, get a-diggin'.

For some more Frosty verse, if you haven't
had enough (Can you have enough Frost?), try
the Academy of American Poets
where you can hear Frost read "The Road Not
Taken."  There's a good amount of criticism of
Frost's work at
Modern American Poetry,
this piece on that pesky untaken road
by Pritchard:

Yet Frost had written Untermeyer two years previously that "I'll bet not half a dozen people can tell you who was hit and where he
was hit in my Road Not Taken," and he characterized himself in that poem particularly as "fooling my way along." He also said that
it was really about his friend Edward Thomas, who when they walked together always castigated himself for not having taken
another path than the one they took. When Frost sent "The Road Not Taken" to Thomas he was disappointed that Thomas failed to
understand it as a poem about himself, but Thomas in return insisted to Frost that "I doubt if you can get anybody to see the fun of
the thing without showing them and advising them which kind of laugh they are to turn on." And though this sort of advice went
exactly contrary to Frost's notion of how poetry should work, he did on occasion warn his audiences and other readers that it was
a tricky poem. Yet it became a popular poem for very different reasons than what Thomas referred to as "the fun of the thing." It
was taken to be an inspiring poem rather, a courageous credo stated by the farmer-poet of New Hampshire. In fact, it is an
especially notable instance in Frost's work of a poem which sounds noble and is really mischievous.

A great poem that always trips up the unwary reader into thinking the poem's message is some treacly, homespun aphorism.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, September 28, 2006
From a couple weeks ago, a review of a new production of Aeschylus' The Persians, performed in modern Greek by the
National Theatre of Greece:

But Ms. Koniordou unleashes the deep currents of feeling in the text by finding vibrant physical expression for its rhetorical
movement. She doesn’t treat it as a poem whose lyrical integrity would be somehow violated by an excess of emotional
intensity. She hears it as a slowly building, ultimately ear-shattering cry of despair, and is accordingly unafraid to pump up the

The photos of the production look fantastic.  I was reminded of it by this
NPR piece that ran on Saturday morning.  

And that live production of
Ben-Hur by Robert Hossein
that I mentioned a couple
Saturdays ago (Sep 16) is up
and running in France.  You
can listen to
a report about it
from NPR.  Here's the
official site in French and this
Italian news site has a
slideshow of images from the

And this news piece is surely a sign of the impending Apocalypse:  "French Prepare to Face Tighter Anti-Smoking Laws."  I
often joke to my children that, when I am old, they are going to have to visit me in France because that is the only place
where smoking will still be legal.  England didn't surprise me when they went smoke free.  But Ireland, Scotland, Italy?!  
Now France.  What's a smoker to do?  Alas, there's still


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006
From the Guardian's Rereadings series, here's Lucasta Miller on the legacy of Currer Bell's Jane Eyre:

Jane Eyre's suspense-laden, melodramatic plot - featuring child cruelty and attempted bigamy, as well as the celebrated madwoman
- explains much of its appeal. Yet it also has qualities that are far harder to express in dramatisation, because they are internal rather
than external. From the moment it was published, it was these aspects that grabbed its most perceptive critics. GH Lewes pointed
to the book's "strange power of subjective representation". It was its interiority, not its narrative mechanics, that seemed the key to
its originality. This was a story that compelled the reader in a completely new way to identify with the heroine. "It reads like a page
out of one's own life," Lewes wrote of the passage in which the child Jane hides from her spiteful cousins behind a curtain on a
window-seat, escaping from the torments and limitations of the real world into a book.

There's a new BBC production of Jane, as well.

Nicholas Basbanes reviews Robert Harris' new Imperium, a novel about Cicero:

The mark of a superior historical novel is not always an erudite rendering of the recorded past but what the author imagines could
have happened within the framework of the known.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, September 25, 2006
Here's an interesting piece in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about a poetry program for engineering students at Georgia
Tech.  I have mixed feelings about some of this.  I do agree with the poetry professor when he says,

"Poems are made things. They have everything to do with intense emotions ... but poems are made things. They don't just happen."

but I find the rap lyrics as poetry argument a little far-fetched:

He uses every weapon in his teaching arsenal. In one recent class, for instance, he drew comparisons between hip-hop lyrics and
the work of 19th-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.
And unlike many academics, he is quick to embrace all the self-styled poets of spoken word and slam fame.
"I give them a great deal of credit for bringing poetry back to its roots," Lux says. "They're always clear, their poems are lucid, they
have no interest in obscurity or obfuscation. They're one of the main reasons the audience for poetry is growing."

Song lyrics share some characteristics with poetry, but they are not the same thing, nor do I think many (if any) listeners of
pop music are saying, "Hey, I like Mariah Carey and 50Cent.  Maybe I should read some poetry."  And the article doesn't
make clear if the poetry classes are mandatory.  I hope not.  There's nothing worse than trying to force-feed poetry to those
who do not want it.  I have no problem with the miniscule readership of verse because it doesn't really strike me as elitism.  
The only requirement for inclusion is reading poetry.  

While we're on the subject of poetry, here are some recent related items:

The new John Donne biography
gets the TLS treatment from Katherine Duncan-Jones:

Stubbs’s great gift is for visual evocation and physical narrative. All of the visual images of Donne are beautifully evoked. He also
writes marvellously about Donne’s swashbuckling youth as a member of two of the Earl of Essex’s great ventures, Cadiz and “The
Islands Voyage”, as well as his likely viewpoint on the “Essex Rising”

At the Guardian, Claire Tomalin writes about Thomas Hardy and the impact his wife's death had on his poetry:

But it was the death of Emma that proved to be his best inspiration. Filled with sorrow and remorse for their estrangement, he had
her body brought down and placed in the coffin at the foot of his bed, where it remained for three days and nights until the funeral.
The gesture would have been remarkable in a lover who could not bear to be parted from the body of his mistress, but for an
elderly husband who had for years been on bad terms with his wife it seems almost monstrously unconventional, until you realise
that he was thinking of his situation quite differently. He had become a lover in mourning.

And Miranda Seymour reviews The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge for the London Times:

The ebbs and flows of their passionate friendship survived the failure of Wordsworth to produce the vast philosophical opus that
Coleridge had conceived and laid upon his friend’s drooping shoulders — outlasted, even, the awful moment in 1810 when
Coleridge, an opium addict, learned that Wordsworth “had no hope of me” and thought he was “rotting out his entrails by
intemperance”. (This was a harsh judgment on a man who had just single-handedly conceived, composed and produced 27 issues
of an ill-fated periodical in under 10 months.)


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, September 24, 2006
Leonardo Da Vinci as stand-up comic?  Who knew?  James Fenton recounts a joke written by Da Vinci:

"A priest going the round of his parish on Saturday before Easter, sprinkling holy water in the houses as was his custom, came to a
painter's room and there sprinkled water upon some of his pictures. The painter, turning round somewhat annoyed, asked him why
this sprinkling had been bestowed on his pictures; then the priest said it was the custom and that it was his duty to do so, that he
was doing good, and that whoever did a good deed might expect a return as good and better; for so God had promised that every
good deed that was done on earth shall be rewarded a hundredfold from on high.
"Then the painter, having waited until the priest had walked out, stepped to the window above, and threw a large bucket of water on
to his back, saying: Here is the reward a hundredfold from on high as you said would come from the good you did me with your
holy water with which you have damaged half my pictures."

The courtiers groan.  No worries.  Leonardo's got a million of 'em:

It was asked of a painter why, since he made such beautiful figures, which were but dead things, his children were so ugly;

[audience shouts: how ugly were they?]

to which the painter replied that he made his pictures by day, and his children by night.

No wonder the Mona Lisa barely cracked a smile.  Wait 'til you hear the one about Judas stiffing the rest of the Apostles
with the bill at the Last Supper.  "30 pieces of silver.  Oy, I vish I had so much money.  Gotta go boys."

Frank Wilson linked to this very clever blog post about the link between deification and defecation (not just a typo, it seems)
and Elvis.  And the blog, Laudator Temporis Acti, has lots of other great posts.  I've added it to my blogroll.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Saturday, September 23, 2006
Frank Wilson reviews a new translation of Dumas' The Three Musketeers:

We discover the novels of Alexandre Dumas when we are young, and for many of us the encounter leaves a lasting impression. Not
that we can recall the precise details of his swashbucklers. What we recall is the excitement of reading them. For a couple of days,
we found ourselves in a world of genuine heroes and villains, of grand gestures and bold deeds, where honor counted more than
security, and love was something grander, not merely something glandular.

In the earliest years of my marriage, my wife and I used to curl up together and I would read books to her.  I've always
loved to read aloud, but I was surprised at the intimacy achieved between us and a book.  Francesca and Paolo without the

sin.  Our favorite became
The Three Musketeers (the Penguin edition) and Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan became
friends to us.  We would talk about them when not reading the book.  However, as the years passed, and children multiplied,
time for such pleasures dwindled.  These days, we're lucky to get a few minutes together at night (except for dinner, which is
a sacrosanct family act and is rarely missed by anyone).  So I never finished reading
Three Musketeers to her.  Perhaps I'll
get this new translation and we'll make an effort to find the time.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, September 22, 2006
Still sick, but the children force me to plod on even though I just want to crawl in bed and sleep the day away.  And being
sick wouldn't be so bad if I could smoke.  I find that most things are made better with a little tobacco.  But my runny nose
makes smoking, especially a pipe, an uncomfortable experience.  What's a poor boy to do.  I think I'll read about smoking.  
Here's Arthur Gleason's "
Enchanted Cigarettes" about WWI soldiers and smoking from Golden Lads (1916):

But the greatest thing in the world to soldiers is plain comradeship. That is where they take their comfort. And the expression of
that comradeship is most often found in the social smoke. The meager happiness of fighting-men is more closely interwoven with
tobacco than with any other single thing. To rob them of that would be to leave them poor indeed. It would reduce their morale. It
would depress their cheery patience. The wonder of tobacco is that it fits itself to each one of several needs. It is the medium by
which the average man maintains normality at an abnormal time. It is a device to soothe jumping nerves, to deaden pain, to chase
away brooding. Tobacco connects a man with the human race, and his own past life. It gives him a little thing to do in a big danger,
in seeping loneliness, and the grip of sharp pain. It brings back his café evenings, when black horror is reaching out for him.

Not only are there no atheists in foxholes, but non-smokers are scarce, as well. You can find the whole chapter in Pipe and


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, September 21, 2006
Been a bit under the weather.  The baby and I have been down for much of today.  But here's a couple quick links for your
reading pleasure.

There is some new JRR Tolkien
on the way:

Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," have a new epic to look forward to. Houghton
Mifflin announced yesterday that it had acquired the American rights to publish "The Children of Hurin." Begun in 1918, it was a tale
that Tolkien, (1892- 1973), worked on throughout his life and will take his readers once more among elves and men and dragons
and dwarfs. Houghton Mifflin said in an announcement that although it had long been assumed that "The Children of Hurin" would
remain unfinished, it had been reconstructed and edited by Tolkien's son Christopher, working from Tolkien's many drafts.
Publication is scheduled for spring.

But it's not really new.  Just newly edited.  Michael Drout gives the lowdown.  Sounds like it'll be worth buying.

And to keep this an all Tolkien post, at Maud Newton there's a review by Walter Moore of Ring of Words: Tolkien and
the Oxford English Dictionary


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I forgot to mention that yesterday was Dr. Samuel Johnson's birthday (1709).  And no, I'm not such a big dork that I sat
around reading his Dictionary to celebrate.  I read the Dictionary every day.  Recently, I was happy to learn that there is a
new movie about the Great Cham, "Samuel Johnson The Dictionary Man."  It aired on BBC television last month and starred
Roger Ashton-Griffiths.  In 1993 there was a movie about Johnson and Boswell's
jaunt across Scotland: "Boswell &
Johnson's Tour of the Western Isles."  That one starred the great Robbie Coltrane as Johnson. Coltrane also played him in
an episode of Black Adder, "
Ink and Incapability." I've seen the Black Adder, but what I wouldn't give to see the two
movies.  Plenty of Johnson links on the scroll to the right, but here's a new one, an
A-Z of Johnsoniana:

F is for First impressions - Johnson was
six feet tall, clumsy, partially blind and deaf,
and suffered involuntary convulsions, leading
many to mistake him as ill-mannered. Boswell's
biography says painter William Hogarth
thought Johnson was an "idiot" until the writer
spoke to reveal his eloquence.

S is for Sausage - A well-known scene in an
episode of the comedy series Blackadder, Ink
and Incapability, sends up Samuel Johnson and
his dictionary. Taking a strong dislike to
Johnson, Blackadder taunts him with impossible words he may have left out (such as "contrafibularities" and "pericombobulation").
It is only when Johnson reads Baldrick's own 'masterpiece' - about a "lovely little sausage called Baldrick", he realises he has omitted
the word sausage, leading to him cry out and abandon his book.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, September 18, 2006
Some Shakestuff for today:

Daniel Swift begins
his review of Ron Rosenbaum's The Shakespeare Wars (which I really want to read-- I love
Shakespeare cultural histories) with the usual Shakespeare/Hitler analogy:

LIKE Hitler, Shakespeare attracts apocrypha: fake diaries, forged testaments, the textual traces of an irregular inner life. Like Hitler,
Shakespeare's genesis is unknown: Both have lost years, and both demand the question of how did an apparently unremarkable
childhood produce that? Like Hitler, Shakespeare stands at the extreme fringe of our culture: the most evil man, the greatest writer.

Come on, Dan.  What a cliché.  Aren't we all a little tired of that old Shakespeare/Hitler comparison?   If I have to read
another piece about Shakespeare and Hitler.  Let's just be glad Swift didn't mention Shylock.

There's a new Shakespeare search engine on
the web.  I found that two of my favorite
Shakespearean insults,
rampallion and
fustilarian, are only used in Henry IV 2.  
But I'm curious as to what editions the search
engine uses.  

And check out the British Library's page on
Hamlet quartos.  Lots of interesting info and
you can listen to recordings of some speeches
by Barrymore, Beerbohm Tree, Forbes-
Robertson and Gielgud.  Oh, wouldn't I have
loved to have seen Barrymore.  On YouTube
I found a
great video of Barrymore performing
the Richard Gloucester soliloquy from 3Henry
VI (III, ii):

Why, love forswore me in my mother’s womb:   
And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,   
She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe,   
To shrink mine arm up like a wither’d shrub;   
To make an envious mountain on my back,   
Where sits deformity to mock my body;   
To shape my legs of an unequal size;   
To disproportion me in every part,  
Like to a chaos, or an unlick’d bear-whelp   
That carries no impression like the dam.   


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, September 17, 2006
If you are a crime fiction fan, check out the podcast interview with Duane Swierczynski, talking about his great Philly bank
heist novel,
The Wheelman.  The interview is part of the series Behind the Black Mask: Mystery Writer's Revealed by
Shannon and Clute who also podcast the great film noir series,
Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir.  Duane's third novel,
The Blonde comes out in November.  Put it on your list.  I've read it and it is a blast.  I'll review it here when it's published.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Saturday, September 16, 2006
For the classically inclined, you can read Sherlock Holmes' adventure, "Silver Blaze," in Latin, "Fulmen Argenteum."  This
story contains the well-known reference to a dog's curious behavior.  Here's that dialogue rendered in Latin:

- Adsuntne aliqua alia facta, ad quae animam attendere mihi suadeas?
- Ita, modus, quo illa nocte canis se gereret.
- Canis? Quoad ego scio, canis nihil fecit...
- Et haec est res mirissima – annotavit Sherlock Holmes.

I love this idea of a live performance of Ben-Hur in France:

A cast of several hundred will recreate naval battles between the Roman fleet and Mediterranean pirates, and stage ancient Roman
gladiator fights and a live chariot race.

If they pull it off, it may tour the States.  Except for musicals, there isn't much spectacle in theatre these days.  If you don't
like Andrew Lloyd Weber, then you're stuck always watching a small group of people in a room.  I'd love it if someone
would mount those enormous Victorian and Edwardian Shakespearean productions with their giant sets and casts of
hundreds.  I guess movies take their place now, but nothing compares to a live spectacle.  

Check out
the photos on this page about 19th century theatrical spectacles (there's even mention of a Ben-Hur
performance).  Beerbohm Tree, where are you?


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, September 15, 2006
I just finished my first book review for the Philadelphia Inquirer.  It will appear on Sunday, Oct 1 (don't worry, I'll be
reminding you).  It's about the new biography of Thomas Malory by Christina Hardyment.  I was very excited that my first
review was on the author of the
Le Morte Darthur.  Easily one of my favorite books (it's in my top five best books list
below).  In the meantime, you can read the NYTimes take on the book by
Paul Gray, Merle Rubin in the LA Times, and
Eric Ormsby in the NYSun.
I purposely didn't read these reviews (although I really wanted to), so as to not unconsciously affect my own review.  But
you can check them out or you could just wait to read my own succinct yet elegant take on
Malory on Oct 1.

As promised, Shakespeare lists today:

Peace, good tickle brains.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' insults, especially if they are in iambic pentameter.

Thursday, September 14, 2006
More lists for today, this time movies adapted from books:

Tomorrow: Shakespeare lists!


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' lists.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
No links today, just a list (with bonus sarcastic comments):

Tomorrow's list will hopefully have an equally ridiculous and apt title.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' objections to its lists.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006
I like this piece by David Ulin on what constitutes noir, especially the literary type:

Yet what do we do when the past comes calling, when all the things we thought we left behind us (bad family, bad relationships,
bad credit, bad luck) return to haunt us at continent's end? That's noir in a nutshell: the desperate sense that this is the final hand,
the last card, that there is nowhere else to turn. Noir reveals, to borrow a phrase from Didion, "how close to the edge we are."

My little list for today with a rather complicated title:

Tomorrow's list: books that other people love, but I think are crap.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' lists.

Monday, September 11, 2006
Paul Collins recounts being stumped by the request: "Name five books everyone  should own":

I'm not sure that I can explain my resistance to issuing a personal canon, but I'm even more bewildered by the desire for one. . . the
personal search for books is at least half the point: and it is utterly dependent on whatever odd cicrumstances, moods, and places
happen to converge on any given day. Moreover, my stock of books constantly shifts every time I move house. I reevaluate what
each book means to me, and whether I even want to keep it around.

I, too, would have a hard time recommending my five favorite books to just anyone.  My favorite novel, Melville's Moby-
, was a book that took me years to read, let alone love.  I always figured it was an important work of literature, so I
should read it, but each time I tried (in high school, in college, twice after college) I just couldn't get through it.  But something
always pulled me back.  I tried different editions ( a small  Heinemann hardback, the annotated Norton paperback, the
Easton Press leatherbound edition).  
Moby-Dick was just incomprehensible to me.  Then one day, it just clicked.  For some
reason I picked it up again (I don't even remember why) and I couldn't put it down.  Reading Melville was like revelation.  
The world went silent and some great truth came calling like a siren's song, as beautiful and as strange as a whale's cry.  I
could not resist it and have reread the book more than a few times. Now, could I recommend this book as a "must-read" for
just anyone?  That reader might not ever hear the song and, truth be told, that reader will
never hear the same song I heard.  
Why do I love it?  I'll probably give a different answer every time I'm asked.  So, while I can't give an answer to the five
books everyone should read,  I can answer

Check back tomorrow for another list


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, September 10, 2006
I just found out about this independent film on Edgar Allan Poe, "The Death of Poe," starring and directed by Mark
Redfield.  Redfield has been making a name for himself as of late on the independent horror film circuit.  I also see that he
adapted Jekyll and Hyde a few years ago.  I'll have to track that one down.  

I'm aware that there is a biopic of Poe in the works right now, produced by Stallone and (
rumored) to star Robert Downey,
Jr.  Personally, I'd like to see Gary Sinise as Poe.  But, according to the IMDB,  there were a couple films about Poe many
years ago that I'd never heard of:

"The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe"
(1942),  has the tagline, "Surpassing his startling stories of dark emotions, comes the true
drama of his own life and tempestuous loves!"  

"The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe"
(1974) features this Cormanesque plot summary: "Poe's fiance, Lenore, falls into a coma
and is taken for dead. She is rescued at the last possible moment from being buried alive, but the experience has driven her
insane. On the advice of his friend, Dr. Forrest, Poe commits Lenore to the asylum run by Dr. Grimaldi. On a visit to the
asylum, Poe and Forrest sense that something strange is going on, and decide to sneak back in after dark and investigate."  
(Cue maniacal laughter.)


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Saturday, September 9, 2006
An omnigatherum for today:

Lorrie Moore
writes about Eudora Welty in the NYRB:

And no writer is entirely a writer—she is also many other things. But the writer part—the accident of mind that prompts the private,
secreting away of phrases and ideas—is never understood the way a neighborhood might imagine, because it is never really
glimpsed, though this is seldom acknowledged.

Paul Collins writes a review of a book that chronicles the "Illustrious History of Fake Vomit, Exploding Cigars, and
Disappearing Ink" in Seattle's The Stranger:

What makes the book so compelling is the sheer pathos in the distance between what gags promise and what they deliver—in the
naiveté of that 9-year-old loser in all of us that desperately wants to believe that with 50 cents and a bit of gumption, you can turn
the social order upside down. Imagine your teacher's expression when she sits in a puddle of disappearing ink! The gales of laughter
when Dad's cigarette bursts into a cloud of snowflakes! The heee-larity when the neighborhood bully shakes you down for a stick
of... garlic gum! Oh boy oh boy, this'll be great!

Louis Menand reviews Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews in the New Yorker:

“Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews”—I’m not sure those are words that make the heart beat faster. “Dylan nil a me alienum
puto,” as Terence put it (or would have put it, if he had lived long enough): nothing having to do with Dylan can be alien to me.
Still, as an interview subject, Dylan probably ranks a few notches above Elvis, who was one of the all-time worst. The trouble with
Elvis was that he had very little to say; he was mainly concerned about sounding polite. Dylan is rarely concerned about sounding
polite, and he says things, but he sometimes makes them up. He also contradicts himself, answers questions with questions,
rambles, gets hostile, goes laconic, and generally bewilders.

And what would an omnigatherum be without Shakespeare.  Here's a program from from BBC Radio 4 on the art of
speaking Shakespearean verse.  A very good show.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.  

Friday, September 8, 2006
More Shakesnonsense: a winner of the Washington Post Style Invitational Contest (I think the contest is a weekly event) in
which contestants had to "rewrite some banal instructions in the style of some famous writer" produced the "
Hokey Pokey"
as written by Shakespeare:

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin:
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from Heavens yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go, girl.
The Hoke, the poke -- banish now thy doubt
Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about.
-- by William Shakespeare (
Jeff Brechlin, Potomac Falls)

I think that's pretty funny.  And I have not yet received any clerihews based on Titus Andronicus (see yesterday's post).  
Perhaps you are all waiting for the weekend to overwhelm me with your poems (okay, okay, I'll be happy if I get one or
two).  Clerihews are easy to write.  First line is a name or ends in a name.  Second line ends with a rhyme for the name.  
Third and fourth lines rhyme.  And as much as possible, the rhymes should be clever (or ridiculous).  Here is a page of
clerihews about philosophers.  There are some good examples on the Wikipedia page.  There's even a History of
Mathematics in Clerihew.


The Bibliothecary
is always merry
when readers send missives
even if they're derisive.

Thursday, September 7, 2006
I came across this collection of limericks inspired by Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.  What a find.  Here's one by Janet

The ravished Lavinia lies bleeding.
Some timely first aid she is needing,
But Marcus, no nurse,
Instead wraps her in verse.
Too much Ovid, it seems, he's been reading.

Limericks are fun, but what I'd really like to see are Titus clerihews.  Nothing is funnier than a good

Titus Andronicus
would kill every one of us
He'd scoop out your eye
and bake it in a pie.

Yes, that's a challenge.  
Send me your Titus clerihews.

Almost as interesting (come on, clerihews excepted, it's hard to best Titus Andronicus limericks) is the OEDILF, The
Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form.  Here's the entry for

If Inquisitors felt like a bake,
Or they judged that your doctrines were fake,
With your sins cleansed away
In an auto-da-fé,
For your good you'd be burned at the stake.

If you refresh the page, the random limerick in the top right corner changes.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' clerihews.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006
I've been busy reading the new biography of Thomas Malory by Christina Hardyment (and writing a review of it which will
be published in the Philly Inq) and have
been reliving my love of Athurian lit,
especially Malory's
Le Morte Darthur.  
I'm dying to finish the review so I can
read it again.  It's been a couple years
since I've dipped into it.  Coincidentally,
there is a
program on BBC Radio 4
about Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of
Shalott."  I just listened to it and
enjoyed it immensely.  I spent
formative years of my youth pining
after the tragically lovely women in the
Arthurian Pre-Raphaelite paintings.  
The BBC program touches upon the
heart-breaking Waterhouse painting of
The Lady of Shalott.  And check out
these images inspired by the same poem.  
I am half-sick of shadows, indeed.

And I had to link this update on the
John Betjeman love letter hoax in AN
Wilson's new biography of the poet (see
my post of
Aug 29).  Turns out the letter was written by Wilson's rival biographer, Bevis Hillier.  He 'fessed up:

Hillier had initially been angry when Wilson reviewed the second volume of his biography in an edition of the Spectator and
described it as "a hopeless mishmash". But he was pushed over the edge when Wilson's new tome received some advance adulation.
"When a newspaper started billing Wilson's book as 'the big one' it was just too much," he said.

Biographers, beware!


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, September 4, 2006
Ducks and Death today from Project Gutenberg:

What I find particularly fascinating about
Ducks at a Distance, a Waterfowl Identification Guide (1978) is its systematic
guide of
what to look for, including Flock Pattern, Silhouette, Color Areas and Sound.  I feel like even a city boy like myself
can now go out and identify ducks.  Not only do I now know the typical flock pattern of the
Redhead Duck:

but I also know its sound: "Drakes purr and meow; hens have a loud squak, higher than a hen mallard's."

Completely unrelated, but equally fascinating is Aids to Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, by W. G. Aitchison Robertson
(1922) in which we learn the post mortem appearances (both internally and externally) of
Death by Suffocation:

External.—Cadaveric lividity well marked; nose, lips, ears, finger-tips almost black in colour; appearance may be placid or, if
asphyxia has been sudden, the tongue may be protruded and eyeballs prominent, with much bloody mucus escaping from mouth
and nose.
Internal.—The blood is dark and remains fluid; great engorgement of venous system, right side of heart, great veins of thorax and
abdomen, liver, spleen, etc. Lungs dark purple in colour; much bloody froth escapes on squeezing them; mucous lining of trachea
and bronchi congested and bright red in colour; air-cells distended or ruptured; many small hæmorrhages on surface of lungs and
other organs, as well as in their substance (Tardieu's spots), due to rupture of venous capillaries from increased vascular pressure.

Ooh, gruesome.  But more fun are the symptoms and results of poisons like strychnine:

Symptoms.—Sense of suffocation, twitchings of muscles, followed by tetanic convulsions and opisthotonos, each lasting half to
two minutes. Mental faculties unaffected, face congested and anxious; eyes staring, lips livid; much thirst. The period of accession
of the symptoms varies with the mode of administration of the poison. Symptoms, as a rule, come on soon after food has been
taken. Patient may die within a few hours from asphyxia or from exhaustion.
Post-Mortem Appearances.—Heart empty, blood fluid, rigor mortis persistent. Hands usually clenched; feet arched and inverted.
Congestion of brain, spinal cord, and lungs.

But most useful to myself is this guide on Tobacco poisoning:

Symptoms.—Giddiness, fainting, nausea, and vomiting, with syncope, muscular tremors, stupor, stertorous breathing, and
insensible pupil. Death has occurred after seventeen or eighteen pipes at a sitting.

Eighteen pipes in one sitting!!  I wish I had the time to smoke that much.  But I always draw the line at sixteen pipes
anyway.  And it's good to know that if I do smoke too much, a "hypodermic injection of 1/25 grain of strychnine" will fix me
up just right.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, September 3, 2006
Some curious poetry from Project Gutenberg for today:

In Hattie Howard's
Poems Vol IV (I wonder where are the other volumes) you'll find the usual 19th century paeans to nature
and the citizens of the earth with titles like "The Apple Tree," "Let us give thanks," "The Summer House," but you'll also find
such oddities as "
The Taxidermist" with it's ponderous opening

From other men he stands apart,
Wrapped in sublimity of thought
Where futile fancies enter not;
With starlike purpose pressing on
Where Agassiz and Audubon
Labored, and sped that noble art
Yet in its pristine dawn.


As frisky each as shooting star,
These tiny electricians are
The Lampyrine Linnæan—
Or lightning-bugs, that sparkling gleam
Like scintillations in a dream
Of something empyrean.

"The Torpedo"

Valiant sons of the sea,
All the vast deep, your home,
Holds no terror so dread
As this novel and unseen foe,
Lurking under the foam
Of some dangerous channel—
As the torpedo, the scourge of ships.

Not quite as majestic as the great cheese poetry (and I do mean cheese, not cheesy) of James McIntyre of whom I can
never resist quoting (thanks to Scott McLemee) from his "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese:"

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

Curiously, I very much like the epigraph that opens Hattie Howard's Poems:

Happy whoever writes a book
On which the world shall kindly look,
And who, when many a year has flown—
The volume worn, the author gone—
Revere, admire, and still read on.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' cheese or stuffed animal carcass inspired comments.

Saturday, September 2, 2006
It's cold and raining around Philadelphia today.  Hopefully, I'll be able to curl up with a book and pipe and do some serious
reading.  Here are some recent pieces on poets for your reading pleasure:

A new biography of Robert Southey details his movement from Romantic revolutionary to government man.  Duncan Wu

Robert Southey: bard or bastard? Lord Byron had the answer: he called him a "son of a bitch" for having spread the rumour that he
was embroiled in a "league of incest" with Mary Shelley and her half-sister Claire Clairmont. (His defence was that he had sex only
with the latter.) Shelley accused him of "villainy". To Wordsworth he was "certainly a coxcomb". Even one of his oldest friends,
Coleridge, accused him of "want of judgement and unthinkingness".

A collected edition of Czeslaw Milosz's poetry is reviewed by Charles Bainbridge.  However, how likely am I to continue
reading a review that begins this insipidly:

Czeslaw Milosz is one of the most significant poets of the 20th century and this collection, brilliantly translated from the Polish and
covering 70 years of work, stands as a towering achievement, a tremendous act of sustained witnessing.

Nicholas Lezard writes about the new edition of Andrew Marvell's poems and the value of annotated editions:

Literature endures - that's one of the ways we know it's literature. But it also disappears, or, to use the currently vogueish word,
degrades: associations are lost, references become obscure, words change their meanings, and the context changes utterly. Even if
we think that the central core of meaning is permanent and inviolable, you can't be too sure.

A couple weeks ago the British Library purchased a "vast treasury of papers" from the descendants of Samuel Taylor
Coleridge.  Included are drafts of poems and letters from the poet, but also many letters written about him:

The poet was acknowledged as an extraordinarily gifted man, but an erratic genius.
As his own son Hartley put it: "There's some screw loose in the whole marvellous machine."

You know, I think I'd be pretty happy if one of my kids said that about me.  Some screw loose in the whole marvellous
.  That's a kind of triumph in life.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.
A. Tennyson by Julia Margaret Cameron
(1865) albumen print
Five books I have yet to tire of that I can pick up and reread at any
time, no matter my mood:

Moby-Dick by Melville
The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
Sherlock Holmes stories by Doyle
Le Morte Darthur by Malory
Anything by Shakespeare
Five great books that I have started to read more than once, but
for some reason or other did not finish,
not because I didn't like
the book, just because something interrupted and I moved on to
other books and have always regretted not finishing the book,
but am sure I will one day get back to reading

Tristram Shandy by Sterne
Don Quixote by Cervantes
The Anatomy of Melancholy by Burton
Middlemarch by Eliot
The Bible
Five writers or books that other people have praised to the
high heavens, but I have read and  not only think that their
work is total crap, but I curse the heavens for the time lost in
reading their drivel

Beloved by Toni Morrison (Beloathed)
Henry James (But I like the movie adaptations)
Walden by Thoreau (Pity he didn't stay in that hut by the pond)
Stephen King (I've read Comp 101 papers with better style)
HP Lovecraft (Aren't horror stories supposed to be scary?)
Five movies adapted from books that are not only great movies
but are also very faithful to their source material

Sense and Sensibility
The Dead
The Maltese Falcon
The Lord of the Rings
The Man Who Would Be King

Five movies adapted from books that drastically change their
source material and become stunningly original works in and of

A Clockwork Orange
Throne of Blood
Apocalypse Now
Frankenstein (1931)

Five movies that transcend their source crappy source material
and become stunningly original works in and of themselves

The Godfather
Carrie (1976)
The Exorcist
Five Shakespearean movies (not adaptations of plays) that I can
watch over and over again

In the Bleak Midwinter (Branagh)
Shakespeare Wallah (Merchant Ivory)
The Dresser
Shakespeare in Love
Playing Shakespeare (John Barton)

Five Shakespearean sonnets that never fail to move me every
time I read them

Five best Shakespearean insults from the Falstaff plays

mad mustachio-purple-hued malt worms
On, bacons, on!
Away, you scullion! you rampallion! you fustilarian! I’ll tickle     
your catastrophe.
You are as rheumatic as two dry toasts.
’Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue,
you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish! O! for breath to utter what
is like thee; you tailor’s yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you
vile standing-tuck
Midsummer Night’s Dream by Beerbohm Tree
John Barrymore as the melancholy Dane,
London, 1925
'Paolo and Francesca da Rimini' by Dante Gabriel
Watercolour on paper, dated 1862