Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

What Yann Martel is doing…

…is beyond delightful. For the past year, the Booker Prize-winning author of Life of Pi has been sending a book to the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, and lovingly documenting his choices on his web site, What is Stephen Harper Reading?

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Denis Sinyakov/AFP/Getty Images)Harper is well-grounded in economics, conservatism and hockey — and pretty much nothing else. Unkind observers say, “stuffed shirt” or “automaton.” The conservative government’s parsimonious approach to arts funding precipitated Martel’s efforts, but many would argue the Tories have a record of other short-sighted and soulless policy choices since they took office back in February 2006. (Has it really only been two years?)

Martel’s choices aim at “expanding stillness.” Thus far Harper has been the recipient of everthing from Kafka to Lindgren, Acorn to Tolstoy.

Truly I say to you, there are only two sets of tools with which the rich soil of life can be worked: the religious and the artistic. Everything else is illusion that crumbles before the onslaught of time. If you die having prayed to no god, any god, one expressed above an altar or one painted with a brush, then you risk wasting the soul you were given. Repent! Repent!

The very first book Martel sent, The Death of Ivan Ilych, netted a perfunctory response from a prime ministerial assistant, but since then, nothing. But no matter — Martel’s charming introductory essays may be falling on deaf ears at 24 Sussex, but I’m sure they’re being savoured by lovers of literature worldwide. You should check a few out…

Martel has vowed to send Harper a book every two weeks for as long as he’s prime minister. For Martel’s sake — and ours — let’s hope that’s not much longer.

Photo credit: Denis Sinyakov/AFP/Getty Images

It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country

world-war-i.jpg

 

It’s called Prose Parsed, I realize, not Poetry Parsed. But then there are times when only poetry will do. Like today. Here is a famous one by Wilfred Owen about a First World War gas attack. The Latin bit at the end translates roughly to the title of this post.

 

 

Dulce Et Decorum Est

 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

 

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

 

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

 

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.