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Showing posts from November, 2010

Six Jesuits (one dead) and Me

A few weeks ago I wrote an essay on Gerard M. Hopkins’ Wreck of the Deutschland, a sharply-wrought, uncomfortable, ecstatic poem. Hopkins had given up poetry when he joined the Jesuits, until he read of the sinking of the Deutschland in 1875, which so affected him that it wrenched open his cellar doors and propelled this beautiful monster out:

THOU mastering me
God! Giver of breath and bread
World’s strand, sway of the sea


going on to create the most radical poem of the nineteenth century. Hopkins was a student at Balliol, and I sneaked around on the internet and discovered that his juvenilia, fragments and devotional writings are housed in Campion Hall, the Jesuit Private Permanent Hall. (A PPH is not one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford). So I wrote to ask if I could take a look at them. The Bodleian, fairly, refused my request to see the mature poems.

Father Philip Endean kindly agreed to let me come to take a look, so I skived off the Decadent Victorian Gothic…
I've just received an email to say that the Bodleian library has been closed. There have been increased student demonstrations and riots across Britain in the last few days - the first in Oxford were two weeks ago - protesting the budget cuts in university education (tuition will double within the next few years). There have been student activists inside the Rad Cam all last night. This is no Paris yet, but we'll see how it breaks down.

When I stood outside the Rad Cam in the freezing afternoon air, the police were pacing back and forth, the student newspapers were crowding in for pictures ("And get someone to ask the police how much money it's costing to keep them here all night..." in a suitably journalese voice), and everyone seemed to be waiting for something to happen.

Meanwhile, I've heard from a few irate third-years protesting the means of protesters, displeased to lose time on their Final Honours papers. What are the protesters doing inside, one wond…

Sound & (non)Sense

Last December when I had my phone interview for Oxford, the British accents from the three academics on the other end of the line – so far away in this magical, unreal city that rained books and fellowships – the contrasts between their voices (which seemed to me like the poshest of posh Oxbridge accents) and the voices I heard every day in the bookstore (on the bus, on the streets, in my apartment) made the event even more surreal and unnerving.

It was only after weathering the first few days here that my ear began to pick up the nuances. My tutor now had an unmistakeably Scottish coloring in his voice.
The system is far more developed than I (should have) realized. I have very little idea what makes a Newcastle accent different from a Nottingham accent (if there is a difference). The different shades of Londonish don’t tell me who is from Croydon and who is from Hampstead (again, if there is a difference, and I think there is). I can tell the difference between Irish and Scot (thank…

Swamplandia

I thought working in a bookshop made me a panicked reader. I brought my favorite books with me in the hope that a life devoted to reading - at least for the next three years - would allow me to more engage with the writers I hoped to enjoy and be educated by. Instead (big surprise) this rollercoaster of non-stop reading is rather (strangely enough) course related. This term I have dedicated myself to those funny people the Victorians. Aside from (or maybe in light of) their quirks, their categorization, their love of the miniature, their strange hobbies and anxieties, their advances and retreats, their observations and wrecks - I have found the Victorians to be an intriguing bunch. But as my tutor says, I must be warned not to lump them all into a big pot. The nineteenth century was a complex age, and just as the modern era, social attitudes changed throughout the century in small oscillations and wide leaps. Though tempted, one cannot summarize and say 'The Victorians were like t…

Seasons of Mist

In the last two days the temperatures have dropped to around or below freezing, and we’re suddenly puffing frosted breaths. This sudden chill is accompanied by a mist that has hung low over Oxford yesterday and today. It is not uncommon, I suppose, for mist in the morning, but yesterday the mist stayed until two in the afternoon, when it lifted for a sudden shout of blue sky, and then descended heavily two hours later. The same happened today. I made sure to get up earlier this morning and document the mist.

Here's Arlosh Quad in the morning:



En route to the square:



The Rad Cam, looking entirely fake.



The High.



The mist in conjunction with our Friday lectures on decadent Victorian Gothic and Jack the Ripper most recently has caused speculation as to which familiar face will soon loom out of the mist in a heavy coat, collar turned up, knife in hand. I have a few theories.



(Anna and Gerard on Holywell.)
If you need a bit more Oxford in your life (let's face it, who doesn't?), check out this wonderful blog: Oxford Daily Photo. I'm a horrible wuss when it comes to stepping up and taking photos of things - it makes me feel conspicuous - and am so grateful the little things are being recorded.

Theatrics

I posted about Harold Pinter’s Old Times a few weeks ago – I was over-the-moon when in a lecture on Tuesday on reading drama at the end of the class the lecturer asked three students onto the stage, where they read the first ten minutes of the play culminating in Anna’s monologue about London. The first read-through was done with a dominating man, a passive woman, and an ecstatic Anna; the second time was done with an anxiously affectionate husband, a laughing wife, and a dominating, deeply knowing Anna. I struggle to control my facial expressions when watching any acting (film or theatre), so I have no doubt I looked like a slaw-jawed child at Chuck-E-Cheese.


Theatre is becoming an increasing interest of mine; it’s something that’s popped up inexplicably with more and more frequency. It all started with the Tom Stoppard rash earlier this year. I saw Michael Gambon in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape on Saturday night (see photo; more later), and I’m thinking of doing a paper on Bec…

Remember, remember

On bonfire night it rained. It started to spit when Anna and I went to buy jumpers to keep us warm for the evening around the fire (they wouldn’t keep out the wet). A large group of people were excited about the venture to the Isis tavern in Iffley: a long walk into the wooded area, along the river, and then the pub with its bonfire, sparklers, mulled wine, and live music. It was spitting as we left (umbrellas and raincoats on). The rain increased. We were soaked. I like being wet or dirty when it’s an outing or a story to tell later so I was quite happy by the dampness, the wet feet, the plastered hair, the wind, the splashing buses, the grim gargoyles gurgling above us, everything. It was like captaining a ship in a fine gale: a brisk trot headed south for the river, all in shipshape and thoroughly soaked.

On the Magdalen Bridge half of our number went back. Yes, they abandoned the drenched woods, the lit river, and the bonfire on the fifth of November for another evening at the col…

Song for a Saturday Night

Joni: I drew a map of Canada, Oh Canada, with your face sketched on it twice

After midnight on a bus, whispers from a couple in the fourth row sharing seats. Dark fields, sheep gathered in, no winding road, lonely twinned streetlamps suddenly go. Legs aching like all the rest, strangers asleep with wide open mouths. Drenched in guitars, the sound of deserted bars.

Joni: Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine, taste so bitter, bitter and so sweet -

For all those cat people

I have to share this wonderful poem, which I was given in a lecture today. I'm not naturally a cat person, but living with two cats has won me over. This is a part of a poem called Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart, a man who wrote it while incarcerated in Bedlam for insanity (or what we would call a mental breakdown). Without further ado:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the …

All Hallows

To those tempted to think that classical music is a dull, afternoon affair with sentimental violins beloved by old women with tea cozies – listen to Mozart’s Requiem. For a mass on behalf of the dead, for all its frequent pleas to rest in peace, this Requiem is a seething, tense, and dramatic exploration of the distance from the bowels of hell to the heights of the sublime. This is gut-wrenching music; music that moves you physically. Indulging in Mozart lore, one can imagine the composer scribbling furiously as the grim reaper approaches with his calling card; Mozart tossed into a pauper’s grave without the reception of his masterpiece.

The Commemoration of All Souls Requiem Eucharist at Merton College Chapel began with the Introit and Kyrie as the ministers processed in. It’s a piece that stacks up the intensity, beginning with the winds, adding strings, then the basses, tenors, altos and sopranos until what began as a whistle has become a vibrating mass of sound. The ministers ente…