Category Archives: Books

The Colours of Autumn

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Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.
– Faith Baldwin

I love Autumn. I love watching the light change to thick, plush gold as our planet tilts on its axis while we orbit the sun. In our Southern Hemisphere, the temperature begins to drop in March. Well, that is in most years! This year of 2016, Melbourne is achieving record high temperatures. It seems the Summer Diva is throwing a tantrum as she has to exit center stage to make room for Sister Autumn.

With Autumn comes the changing colour of the leaves. The stuff of poets and artists. “Autumn … the year’s last loveliest smile,” writes William Cullen Bryant. John Donne chimes in, “No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.” French author,
Albert Camus, saw autumn as the second spring, where every leaf is a flower. George Eliot was totally smitten, “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” Emily Bronte discovered that every fluttering
autumn leaf spoke of bliss to her. The colours of autumn are indeed one of those spectacular reminders of a rapid fading season of warmth and light.

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Stanley Horowitz wrote, “Winter is an
etching, spring a watercolour, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all
.” Autumn, to me, is the great crescendo of the seasons. As we observe this dramatic display, we can also take time to ponder the colours and seasons of our lives. Autumn can teach us many things, perhaps one of the greatest lessons is the certainty of change.

In a constructed social culture that generally measures success through growth, influence and numbers, you would be forgiven to think that a ‘Summer Witch’ has taken over ‘Narnia’. Summer speaks of vibrancy, happiness, and growth: the mantras of today’s modern world. Yet, as charming as it is, an unending summer would destroy us. Autumn stops us in our tracks. It reminds us that Winter is Coming. In its flaming glory it tells us to rejoice and stop wasting our energy in the pursuit of a fantastical, everlasting summer.  

forest-411491_1920So take some time out of your busy
schedule. Walk through a magnificent deciduous forest and take in nature’s masterclass on change. Notice the grace and ease with which trees let go of what once was. Discover the easy rhythm with which they embrace transition. There is no frantic panic, for in these magnificent woodlands, change is celebrated.

Autumn colours also have a sobering reminder of death, something our western culture is so ill prepared for. Autumn advises us to live with humility, for nothing is permanent. We need to consider our days carefully, for they are indeed fleeting. Autumn beckons us to surrender ourselves to this divine dance of change. It whispers to us with hope. For there are a few things that remain – Faith, Hope and Love … and the greatest of all is Love. Perhaps this is an indication of how we should colour the leaves of our lives? 

There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!
Percy Bysshe Shelley
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Those Wonderful Irish: Reflections on Irish Poetry


Hearts are not to be had as a gift, hearts are to be earned.

William Butler Yeatsirish-995924_1920

Three years ago we visited Ireland. I fell in love. In love with a countryside so spectacular it takes your breath away. In love with the people whose melodic, lilting accents had me so fascinated that I stared at them in a rather creepy manner. In love with a people who knew how to laugh and celebrate.

Ireland has gifted our globe with a fascinating history. It has also produced some of the finest poets. Irish poetry has developed distinctively from the 6th century, to Jonathan Swift in the early eighteenth century, to contemporary poets such as Seamus Heaney.

It is a poetry that has been shaped by the struggle to define Irish identiy. Irish poetry has a history of two languages: Irish and English, richly interwoven. The Irish language has the oldest vernacular literature and poetry. In the middle ages, the Gaelic order that supported some of the old professional bards, broke down. This resulted in the Irish language becoming marginalised and entering the realms of folk art. However, in the 19th century, Irish poets set out to reinvent the Gaelic tradition in the new language. The best example of this is the early work of W.B. Yeats.

Several years ago the Irish Times surveyed its audience and asked for their favourite poets. The top two were W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney. So here are some samples of these famous poets … I have also included one of Oscar Wilde as I found this poem so beautiful. If you have never tried to read poetry, this is probably the best place to start. Feed your soul, read it slowly.

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When You Are Old
By William Butler Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

(William Butler Yeats was the most famous Irish poet of all time. “The Wild Swans at Coole,” is surely one of the most beautiful poems ever written, in any language.)

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When All the Others Were Away at Mass
By Seamus Heaney

In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives –
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

(Seamus Heaney (13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013) was a poet, writer and lecturer from Northern Ireland. This poem is taken from Clearences, a sonnet sequence which he published in 1987 on his mother’s death.)

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Requiescat
by Oscar Wilde

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my life’s buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

(Born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Irish writer Oscar Wilde is best known for the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray and the play, The Importance of Being Earnest. Sadly, he was arrested and imprisoned. His crime? Being gay. He died shortly after his release).

You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or for their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.
Oscar Wilde

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From Russia with love

It is better to have dreamed a thousand dreams that never were, than never to have dreamed at all. – Alexander Pushkin

The love of poetry runs in my family. My father knows endless renditions of beautiful German poetry, especially that of Goethe and Schiller. Travelling through Russia reminded me of the gifted poets that this vast country produced, and their invaluable contribution to the world of literature.

The early part of the 19th century was known as the Golden Age of Russian Poetry or the Age of Pushkin. Alexander Pushkin is regarded as the father of Russian literature and the greatest of all Russian poets. He is not as well known in the West as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, mainly because his works, including his novel, Eugene Onegin, was written in verse and difficult to translate.

imageHere is one of his well known poems, The Infinite Journey: 1829 

If I walk the noisy streets,
Or enter a many thronged church,
Or sit among the wild young generation,
I give way to my thoughts.

I say to myself: the years are fleeting,
And however many there seem to be,
We must all go under the eternal vault,
And someone’s hour is already at hand.

When I look at a solitary oak
I think: the patriarch of the woods.
It will outlive my forgotten age
As it outlived that of my grandfathers.

If I caress a young child,
Immediately I think: farewell!
I will yield my place to you,
For I must fade while your flower blooms.

Each day, every hour
I habitually follow in my thoughts,
Trying to guess from their number
The year which brings my death.

And where will fate send death to me?
In battle, in my travels, or on the seas?
Or will the neighbouring valley
Receive my chilled ashes?

And although to the senseless body
It is indifferent wherever it rots,
Yet close to my beloved countryside
I still would prefer to rest.

And let it be, beside the grave’s vault
That young life forever will be playing,
And impartial, indifferent nature
Eternally be shining in beauty.

Poetry is so important – it builds culture and community, promotes literacy, and speaks to the soul. Poetry is rhythm, something we have lost in our fast-paced, technology-driven age. Through poetry we embrace the gift of speaking and listening, expressing love, joy, grief and dissent. William Butler Yeats said, “It is blood, imagination, intellect running together … It bids us to touch and taste and hear and see the world, and shrink from all that is of the brain only.”

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If you have never given any time to appreciate poetry, why not try something new? Start slowly, don’t try and analyse, deconstruct, find some hidden meaning in the poems you are reading. Read poetry that wakes you up and makes you want to laugh or cry or punch a wall.

Poetry awakens the soul! Russian poetry is truly beautiful and a gift to the world. If you have never opened this gift, isn’t it about time? From Russia with love …

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Confessions of a Bibliophile

“There is no friend as loyal as a book”

Ernest Hemingway

I am an only child. From time to time people ask whether I missed having brothers or sisters. This is rather a peculiar question. It’s like asking someone who has never tasted eggs whether they miss quiche. In short, no. I did not miss having brothers or sisters. I am sure siblings are a marvellous treat for those who possess them, but I didn’t, and so I never missed them the slightest. How can you miss annoying homo sapiens that you have to share things with? Imagine if I had to share my books?!

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My obsession with books started at an early age. Amongst my collection of childhood books I specifically remember an ancient edition of Grimm’s Fairytales that sat on my bedside table. It was printed in Old German Fraktur font. Both my Omas could read the book at lightning speed. My book collection grew as my reading skills developed; from books on animals to old castles, fairy tales, poetry, children’s novels, and, of course, the whole collection of Asterix & Obelix. When we migrated to South Africa I learnt English and Afrikaans. This opened up a whole new set of books! I distinctly recall the first time I read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, and bawling my way through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. There are some books that haunt us for a lifetime.

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Providence would have it that my path would cross with a rather tall redhead, whose love for books matched mine. He considered browsing through encyclopedias a favourite pastime in his childhood. It was a match made in heaven. The lack of a shared ‘book love’ would have most certainly been a deal breaker. So between us, we started collecting a humungous amount of books. All sorts of books. “Read all sorts of books that wound and stab us,” advises Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis). This is good advice. Books open our thoughts and hearts. They take us to a different world and for a moment we can become part of a fantastic adventure. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.” (A Dance with DragonsGeorge R.R. Martin).

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It would be extremely difficult for me to list the most important books to read or my most favourite books. That would feel like I am selling out on old friends by comparing their worthiness or value. I have, however, thrown out a bunch of stupid books. Most often, modern-day schmuck about how to be better in leading, speaking, praying, or peeing – yeah, the self-help genre is my least favourite. *Rant Alert*: self-help books remind me of people who have discovered some gold (to their credit), but now they are convinced that the whole frigging world will discover gold in the same place, at the same time, with the same set of tools if they dig in just the right way, whilst chanting mantras. Yes, I know, it’s an awful generalisation and I probably just managed to offend some of my blog readers … but it is a pet peeve.

Now if you are a bibliophile, or more importantly, if you have a bibliophile living under your roof, the following observations may be very helpful:

  1. Bibliophiles feel lost without books. The Apostle Paul is in a dark, damp Roman prison, writing a letter to Timothy. “Bring my cloak,” he says (ver5127556-ancient-map-scroll-Stock-Photo-map-pirate-parchmenty important), “and my scrolls, especially the parchments” (most important). Who would have thought that Paul was a bibliophile? He was having massive withdrawals from his ‘books’ (2 Tim. 4:13).
  2. Bibliophiles will take great joy in ‘cleaning’ their bookshelves. Think it nothing strange if your book addict declares they will sort their books and then spend hours taking every book off the shelf, gazing lovingly at it, cleaning the shelves, and then putting them all back in a different order. If you are lucky, they emerge with one or two books that can be given away … you never really throw away books, unless they are extremely stupid books (please refer to ‘rant’ section above).
  3. You will often lose bibliophiles when you shop – they can be retrieved from the nearest book320px-Carl_Spitzweg_021shop. If, however, that bookshop is a second-hand bookshop, you have zero chance of getting them out of there in less than three hours.
  4. Bibliophiles will judge you. They will not judge you on your clothes, looks, education, house,beauty-and-the-beast-belle-book-books-Favim.com-616270.jpg food or pet. They will judge you on your bookshelf and on the books you are reading. Prepare for judgment.
  5. They press rewind every time the Beast unveils the library in Beauty and the Beast.
  6. Most often introverted, bibliophiles are happy for you to jabber on about all things regarding ‘normal’ life until it comes to books. God help you if you misquote a book. God help you if you make a derogative comment about a classic novel. God help you if you do not ask them at that time what they are reading and why. To be forewarned is to live in harmony.
  7. Bibliophiles will have certain books they read repeatedly. This is a most bizarre behaviour for anyone who is not a book addict. It’s really hard to explain why we do this. Perhaps it has to do with relieving the experience or the feeling we received from reading the book, or simply to make triply sure that we did not miss a minute detail of the story. My repeat reads include Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin GospelRichard Rohr’s, Breathing Underwater, and, of course, Tolkien’s, Lord of the Rings.

book-61So, mugwumps, who of you want to raise your hands and join me in my book addiction confession moment? What books are you reading right now? Oh, and is this a good time for me to tell you what I am reading? I thought you’d never ask! On the novel side I am ploughing my way through Philippa Gregory’s excellent historical novel series, The Cousins’ WarI love historical novels and Gregory is an outstanding writer as she sheds light on the three important women of the Wars of the Roses. I am also re-reading David Gushee’s book, Changing our Mind. Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. Widely regarded as one of the leading moral voices in American Christianity, he is the author or editor of 20 books and hundreds of articles in his field, including Righteous Gentiles of the HolocaustKingdom EthicsThe Sacredness of Human Life, and, most recently, Changing Our Mind. What a read! Here’s a quote: “Better is one day in the company of those bullied by Christians but loved by Jesus than thousands in the company of those wielding scripture to harm the weak and defenceless.” (Review)

Yes, I am afraid I am a bibliophile. I love big books and I cannot lie. But now it’s your turn – what books are you reading and what do you love/hate about them?

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” 

Desiderius Erasmus