The Works of Lord Byron, Volume 2

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“Ancient of days! August Athena! where,
Where are thy men of might? thy grand in soul?
Gone – glimmering through the dream of things that were:
First in the race that led to Glory’s goal,
They won, and pass’d away – is this the whole?
A schoolboy’s tale, the wonder of an hour!
The warrior’s weapon and the sophist’s stole
Are sought in vain, and o’er each mouldering tower,
Dim with the mist of years, gray flits the shade of power.”

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Madame Chrysanthème

4620562229_a354537572What a strange book.

It grips you with beautiful descriptions of Japan, shocks you with harsh, almost racist remarks about its people and leaves you with disgust or pity for the protagonist who had sought after this cold and calculative illusion of a relationship.

In the end she is counting the money while he leaves her like this:

“Well, little mousmé, let us part good friends; one last kiss even, if you like. I took you to amuse me; you have not perhaps succeeded very well, but after all you have done what you could: given me your little face, your little curtseys, your little music; in short, you have been pleasant enough in your Japanese way. And who knows, perchance I may yet think of you sometimes when I recall this glorious summer, these pretty quaint gardens, and the ceaseless concert of the cicadas.”

Well, what a great affair that was.


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P. Loti (right) with “Chrysanthème” and his friend Yves in Japan, 1885.


Anna Karenina

What is love?

The harp, those tingly feelings in the stomach when you first realise you miss someone…

The cello, yearning that doesn’t subside but only becomes stronger and stronger…
(0:13 “I can’t stop thinking about you…about you…“)

The clarinet, anticipation, and in the background your heart palpitating nervously.

When finally you meet, violins like your feelings, unfolding slowly at first, till deep from within everything surfaces, emotions coming to you in waves, and the harder you suppress them the harder they return, they overwhelm you, they erupt into passion and you surrender…

You often ask yourself:
03:49 “what will be the end?

What is doomed love?
Do you hear the train coming?

The Piano Tuner

This time it happened to me inversely; hearing a piece reminded me of a book.

Ravel’s piano concerto for the left hand:

A dark, intriguing opening, like the foggy England where the hero considers that mysterious invitation…

Maybe it’s his uneventful life, maybe it’s the prospect of adventure that lead him to embark. But it’s the calling of the piano that tempts and draws him deeper and deeper in the jungle…
It is a long expedition and he is eager to arrive.

5:08 Arrival at the exotic place but days spent in solitude, working on the piano, meticulously tuning it note by note, carefully observing it and thinking of his life…

6:55 Days pass for he delays his departure, he explores, he changes.

Months pass and his stay in Burma, dangers and adventures, all feel like a dream.
Persisting through difficulties, happy times, he plays the piano…
Delights of the orient, where nature and people are savage but pure…rythms, marches and dances…a new world has opened for him and he realises he may not want to leave anymore…

13:56 Yet what about his wife, his life back in England?

17:11 Enemies approach the fort, an attack is imminent…will the truce hold?


Interesting fact: the piece was written by Ravel for Paul Wittgenstein, a pianist who lost his right arm during World War I. Paul was the brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Childe Harold´s Pilgrimage

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“X.
Here let me sit upon this massy stone,
The marble column’s yet unshaken base!
Here, son of Saturn, was thy favourite throne!
Mightiest of many such! Hence let me trace
The latent grandeur of thy dwelling-place.
It may not be: nor even can Fancy’s eye
Restore what time hath laboured to deface.
Yet these proud pillars claim no passing sigh;
Unmoved the Moslem sits, the light Greek carols by.

XI.
But who, of all the plunderers of yon fane
On high, where Pallas lingered, loth to flee
The latest relic of her ancient reign-
The last, the worst, dull spoiler, who was he?
Blush, Caledonia! such thy son could be!
England! I joy no child he was of thine:
Thy free-born men should spare what once was free;
Yet they could violate each saddening shrine,
And bear these altars o’er the long reluctant brine.

XII.
But most the modern Pict’s ignoble boast,
To rive what Goth, and Turk, and Time hath spared:
Cold as the crags upon his native coast,
His mind as barren and his heart as hard,
Is he whose head conceived, whose hand prepared,
Aught to displace Athena’s poor remains:
Her sons too weak the sacred shrine to guard,
Yet felt some portion of their mother’s pains,
And never knew, till then, the weight of Despot’s chains.

XIII.
What! shall it e’er be said by British tongue
Albion was happy in Athena’s tears?
Though in thy name the slaves her bosom wrung,
Tell not the deed to blushing Europe’s ears;
The ocean queen, the free Britannia, bears
The last poor plunder from a bleeding land:
Yes, she, whose generous aid her name endears,
Tore down those remnants with a harpy’s hand.
Which envious eld forbore, and tyrants left to stand.

XV.
Cold is the heart, fair Greece, that looks on thee,
Nor feels as lovers o’er the dust they loved;
Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatched thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!”

What a great excerpt about the Elgin Marbles.
The power of poetry… few verses, Byron’s emphatic language and the effect is more profound and memorable than anything written in prose.
And how bold and outspoken against his fellow countrymen!

The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture

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Pros: The idea behind the book was really interesting (written by Japanese english students, edited by their professor, proceeds go to scholarships) and the approach was exactly what I was looking for: straight to the point, each chapter focusing on one Japanese peculiarity.

Maa-maa: In the end of each chapter there were discussion questions and cross cultural issues; some of them intriguing, some of them (maybe most) anticipated.

Cons: the content/writing was also…peculiar. Amateurish? One could expect that since each essay was written by a different student, but I couldn’t help but feel that some concepts were given in extreme, unnecessary detail (amakudari, shōshiki) while others were not given the proper space.

But most importantly in one case it failed to pass the younger (20-30 year old) japanese test: awkward faces ensued when…

…”in Japan the center of feelings is supposed to be the stomach, not the heart right?”
– ???
– …that’s why samurai used to harakiri, no?
No?
Ok.
:S
:D

Nonetheless I would recommend this book, it is sure to stir up interest and be a good start for further exploration.