Chekhov: death and dying

There are quite a number of Chekhov’s short stories that deal in the business of dying and death:‘ The Bishop’, ‘Typhus’, and ‘A Tragic Actor’ are examples. However, my favourite is ‘A Dreary Story From the Notebook of an Old Man’. I suppose I am drawn to the story because our protagonist is an aging…

What are so many straight trees to me?

Frieda Weekley met DH Lawrence in March 1912. She later eloped with him, leaving her husband Ernest Weekley and her three children. After obtaining her divorce, they were married in July 1914. This blog is about the complex ramifications of a woman leaving her children and her husband for her lover.   I have known…

The Library of Babel

This morning I am sitting in the Birmingham Central Library, surrounded by books. As you come up, by the escalator, to the second floor you see ahead of you, a circular atrium that towers above you and that is open to a magnificent light coming from the sky. There are circular rows and rows of…

Spitting flames from his gums

The winter solstice has been and gone. Nightfall starts practically mid-afternoon and it is still night well into what would normally count as morning. Even after all these years, my body, my immigrant’s body, that is, still finds this shortening of the day and the reciprocal lengthening of the night disconcerting, if not just short…

Silence and Absence in Rumi

Rumi (1207-1273), astonishing for a poet, was preoccupied with silence. Now, on superficial examination poetry, writing, speaking is the antithesis of silence. But, for Rumi, silence like absence was the ever-present nothingness from which things, including speech and poetry, emerge. This insight, a miraculous insight, upends our usual understanding of how the world is, what…

The cellar of memory

Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) described Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) in 1945 as   immensely dignified, with unhurried gestures, a noble head, beautiful, somewhat severe features and an expression of immense sadness.   I never met her except in her poetry. When I first read her poems, I found that they were charged as like with intensely powerful…

I pass as all things do, dew on the grass

The title of this post is from Bazan's death poem. He died in 1730 at the age of 69 years. His death poem refers to “dew” an image of transience in Buddhist literature. In my childhood, too, dew would settle, overnight, on the blades of grass, on leaves and flowers like a miraculous secretion on…