Thursday Dances: Vade Mecum

And now for another question I have never pondered before.  The hypothetical husband is agreeably alliterative, but so nebulously nonexistent that it’s distracting me from the book question.  The hypothetical honeymoon just makes me laugh, because while it’s true I never travel without at least one volume in hand, I don’t think books would top my list of packing priorities.

“So discuss the books that are integral to understanding you!”  Hmm.  I’ve already talked about a lot of integral books.  Check the archives, my dear future spouse, and be sure you’ve read them.  That is all.

Oh, that’s not all?  Well, fine.  Get me your respective list and I’ll try to read it.

Still not satisfied?  Greedy, I calls it.  I suppose I’d take Perelandra along.  Gaudy Night would make for interesting reading and perhaps a fair amount of important discussion; nothing like going from academia to the writing of books to methods of defense against possible stranglers to that dance between the sexes to haggling to punting to fiscal responsibility.  If it gets too heavy, one can skip to the sections where St. George turns phrases and smashes meringues.

Since I never really travel with just two books in hand – my friend will recount how I once set myself a limit of 5 books but packed 8 “because these three are skinny” – may as well toss in a smaller collection of Calvin & Hobbes (Yukon Ho! or suchlike).  And of course it’d be fun to read aloud from O Ye Jigs & Juleps!, which is my newest hysterical collection of essays (and the only such collection by an 11-year-old writing in 1904).  Should my lace handkerchief see no other opportunity for use, we could read (or recite?) The Ballad of the White Horse.  Five volumes would be a respectable number without weighing us down too much in Algarve or the Grand Canyon or wherever (am I a liar?  I could be vastly mistaken or a liar).

Other considerations:  Narnia would precede the engagement if not the third date, as would Brideshead Revisited and a particular collection of Ray Bradbury called The Toynbee Convector and Other Stories.  If he hasn’t read Harry Potter, he might survive but he’d get confused fairly often.  The Four Loves could be reread on anniversaries or other appropriate occasions.  Not to mention that hopefully, said fellow has his own contributions to the luggage and the library!

I could be won over by this library.

Books for Beloved Or No Surprises Here

So, I spent the morning at my grandfather’s funeral, and am now blogging out of an airport in Iowa, waiting to fly back to Dallas.  I don’t cite this autobiographical information as a call for sympathy, but rather as justification for my flagrant cheating for this week’s question.  Because I can’t think of any book I’d have to insist Beloved read as soon as the two of us are one.  But there may well be some books he ought to know in order to merit consideration for a date.  (Actually, even this may not be strictly true, but considering Real Life Things at the moment, I wish to be entirely frivolous right now.)

About a year ago when I was taking the GRE for grad school applications, I worked on building up my GRE vocabulary.  I wrote a bunch of flashcards, and made up my own sentences using the vocab words, the more ridiculous, the better (helps you remember, don’t you know).

ultimatum n. a final demand or statement of terms, the rejection of which will result in retaliation or a breakdown in relations (Oxford American Dictionary)

“She issued an ultimatum: ‘Read Sandman or I can’t date you.'”

Sandman was one of those mind-changing books that I discovered in college; it shaped both my imagination and my view of why literature is important (and by extension, why I should go to grad school).  It influenced my choice of quotation for the alumni walk brick that my parents bought me for graduation.  And at the time, any guy who wanted to have a hope of understanding the way I thought really needed to read it.  Telling me you’ve read Sandman is still a sure way to impress me (okay, extend that to pretty much any Gaiman).   So there you have it.  Having read Sandman probably won’t be a deal-breaker for a first date, but it totally earns the guy points.  And if he wants to get beyond a first date, well…

Epic Meme Saturday: In a Land Far, Far Away

Well, in my most learned and delectable mind, I think that a favorite setting means a place where I would want to live. (Please note how I conveniently twist it to mean something that I want!) Oh, of all the places I would love to live! Narnia, the Enchanted Forest, Middle-Earth, Prydain, Al-Amarna, The Old-Kingdom…. Actually, not the old kingdom, too many undead there!

There are so many beautiful and wonderful worlds that would be a joy to see. Yet the one I have read that is the most beautifully described is a place called Mistawis. It is a land of mystery and enchantment, where raised eyebrows mean the end of the world (though occasionally the world keeps on spinning despite the eyebrows), cardinal flowers lighten the swamp like ribbons of flame, and islands appear as amethysts. Here a mysterious man is found with crocked eyebrows and a dark past.

Ooh, the possibility gives me the shivers! But this land of deep magic has dangers, evil men who would kidnap the fair maiden from her first dance, a cruel mother whose petty tasks might cause her daughter much suffering… oh, all the traits of a true fairy tale!

But it isn’t. The Mistawis is a real place, in Ontario Canada. Sounds prosaic, right?! (Well, don’t google it for images, I did and I was very disappointed. They had only a few of actual scenery!) But the Mistawis, as seen through the eyes of Valency Jane Stirling Snaith from L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle is that Land of Enchantment where strange and wonderful beauty lies just ahead and ever under her fingertips. If you have the eyes to see it.

Yes, there are many places described by books that I would like to see, but only here would I want to live.

Thursday Dances: World-Weaving

So there was this time when Melpomene plotted out some memes, and I looked them over and thought “Hmmm, that is a fair helping of romance-themed sorts of whatnot. I hope I don’t talk about the same book over again. …whaaat. Best Setting? Mneeeeeeeeeeep!”

Not, you understand, because I hate settings (that would be nonsense), but because whenever the setting forces me to think about it, it has, in some wise or other, failed at its job. Like a cosmetologist whose work is not subtle enough to pass for natural beauty. Like the mood music in a coffee shop that’s so loud, you can’t hear your compatriots and your mood sours. Like some other similes piled in a row like an unending line of train cars.

Anyway. That was a lengthy excuse as to why I don’t normally ponder settings. I declaimed to Thalia about How Difficult It All Was, and then kept rambling: “Settings are not a thing I generally give much thought to; I loathe it when a storyline is so dependent on Where They’re Going and What Is In the Way that I need to get out a physical map to understand the plot (yes, Tolkien, I’m looking at you in all your splendid, meticulous, cumbersome plans). Perhaps the best setting would achieve that goal set by Lewis in Of Other Worlds: to catch the feeling of a place, like an exotic bird in an invisible net, like sand which melts through our fingers when we try to grasp it.”

Narnia, for example, said I; why, Dr. Ward did a marvelous job of laying out his claim (and the supporting evidence as well) that each book is built up around a particular sphere of the heavens: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe around the festal pomp of Jupiter; Prince Caspian around the militant aspect of Mars; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader around the golden fortune of the Sun; The Horse and His Boy around the bright alacrity of Mercury; The Silver Chair around the watery mutability of the Moon; The Magician’s Nephew around the beauty and vitality of Venus; The Last Battle around the ponderous, sorrowful weight of Saturn.

The qualities ascribed to each sphere, the metals associated with them, the colors and sounds – these details are woven into the very fabric of Lewis’s narrative. So each book has a distinct flavor, down to the exclamations the characters use and the verbs describing their action. It is marvelous how those aspects of the story, not typically used for setting the story in a world, do so in Lewis’s hands.

Whereupon Thalia very reasonably pointed out that perhaps the Narniad had won that particular prize where my head was concerned. So there you have it.

For I wanted not the momentary suspense but that whole world to which it belonged – the snow and the snow-shoes, beavers and canoes, war-paths and wigwams, and Hiawatha names…

Tuesday with Thalia: Best Setting

I don’t have a visual imagination. It is hard for me to release the sound of the words and the mechanics of writing as I read so that I can see the world of my books. It takes a masterful writer to produce a world that shakes free of florid description and jump starts my imagination.  Good writing, like good violin technique, is invisible. Rather than drawing attention to itself either through clod hopping ineptitude or through overtly elegant stylization, really good writing fades to the subconscious and lets the reader take over.

How this is done, I do not know. Practice, I suppose. In a violinist, practice is all that separates the shrill, prominent, unflexible tone of the student, from the golden, shaded, enchantment of the master. I don’t know how that transformation is made, I don’t know what tools the arms and hands employ. But there it is. It’s invisible, and sometimes unintentional, but good technique effaces itself and leaves room for artistry.

I can think of three books that I have read which dragged me past the verbiage into their world. The Man Who was Thursday is washed in saffron and crimson, and the ragged, jagged London that Chesterton made for this uneasy dream comes alive. I also just love Gabriel Syme. I identify with his wild humors, and when he goes off to accomplish some feat, I am beside him.

Currently, I am reading The End of the Affair which my brother lent to me  after he reviewed it for his blog. He bought it from his library’s sale for a handful of pennies. “Take it, but read it carefully.” he said, “for each page is an isolated individuality.” It’s not so much the post-war London that I’m drawn to, but the pull of the character’s emotions and conflict.

But the very first book that ever pulled me into its world was Julius Caesar. In college, I worked for a captioning company that handled captions for phone calls for the deaf. When employees aren’t on calls, they may do whatever they like. Some study, some read, some do endless cross word puzzles. I was reading Julius Caesar at work, late late late on a Thursday night and nobody was calling anyone, all over the United States.

I saw the bloody sunset. I saw the sunset wounds. I was shivering, and alone on a Roman battlefield when my supervisor walked up behind me and spoke my name.

7 inches, I estimate. I yelped loudly and jumped out of my chair. Wrenched back to the 21st century, babbling like an idiot, I attempted to explain why I was crying. “b-b-b-b-b-b-but…………. B-B-B-B-B-Brutus!………I loved him!”

Epic Meme Saturday: Supercailfragilistucexpialidosious

Literary references that would win my heart…oh goodness, Thalia is right there are many ways that would be interpreted.

Well, there are so many books or idea that are quite lovely and would convince me that the person who knew them is someone I would love to get to know better. there are a few though that would assure me that the employer of them is not only well-educated and has a wonderful sense of humor, but also has great strength of character.

First there is that ever fateful and ever quote line from The Virginian “When you call me that… SMILE.” It may be very simple and maybe a tad too recognizable for common usage, but the ideas behind it are wonderful. for who would not admire someone who would righteously stand up for his own honor! After all, it is a sin to calumniate another’s name, so I think it is wrong to let other abuse you, either to you face as Trampas did the Virginian, or behind their back, as the Virginian stopped the same from doing to Molly. Besides, someone who could say that in a right context and not look like a fool would be a very rare thing indeed, with the ability to maintain this own dignity and the strength to not be cowed by another.

Another reference that I would love to hear some one use would be Blake’s poem Tyger, Tyger! Not the first stanza, but the middle (third)

What the shoulder, what the art

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat

What dread hand and what dread feet!

Ooooo, it makes me shiver! Though I have no idea how such a quote could even be used in a normal conversation, the person who could pull it off well would be admirable indeed and I would be most desirous to make their further acquainted.

Also, any one who managed to use the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidosious” in a sentence would be my every lasting hero.

So far, all these quotes are things that would raise a person in my estimation, but to truly captures my heart as only the one for whom measures up to my silver yard stick and who will fit me as  the falcon’s feathers fit the falcon, I reserve two references.

The first is “This isn’t Spaghetti, its army noodles with ketchup!” oh, you who know what this is from will know why I love it so much. It also ties back to one of my earlier posts.

The second is very corny, but very beautiful all the same. it is Farm Boy’s humble “As you wish” to his beloved Buttercup. Though I have no wish to be likened to that quintessential blonde, that one phrase has a lot of meaning behind it. Probably a great deal more that the author thought. that one sentiment expresses true love, and I am not talking about the sad impression of true love that one gets from the movie and the book The Princess Bride. It is a reflection of the love that we are meant to have for God. God, as all loving, all good and all-knowing, loves us perfectly and wants only what would make us happy, truly happy, which usually is not what we think would make us happy. (strange how that works out…) and so by saying to God, “not my will but yours be done” we are submitting to His perfect wisdom and love in perfect confidence and love. And that is what I would desire, (not to be god, ug that would be awful!!!), but for my spouse to have love and confidence enough in me to trust that I would do only what was best.

So I am a sentimental sod, but I like it!

Mel’s Meme: You Have Stolen My Heart

Literary pickup lines? Seriously? Who wrote this meme?

Oh. Yeah. Ahem.

That was me.


This is one that I deliberately left open. It requires some personal definition. And when it comes down to testing it, it all depends on the people involved.

I like to protest that I am not a romantic person, and keep a slightly cynical cloak about me to protect myself from the world.

But when pushed, I find that I do have a penchant for the sweet and sincere and lovely.

I admit that almost any line from John Donne makes my heart beat quickly. A particularly good reading of “The Flea” makes laugh and smile, capturing both my attention and my affection.

And I would swoon over the man who can deliver  the line, “I will live in thy heart, die in the lap, and be buried in thy eyes; and moreover, I will go with thee to thy uncle’s!”

Because there is something that line that encapsulates the heart of romance for me. It has the dual strength of poetic devotion and practical aid; the promise of union in both spiritual and material worlds.

Which brings to me to The One Reference To Rule . . .  er, My Heart, Mind, and Soul:

The Song of Songs

(Aka: The Song of Solomon, The Canticle of Canticles)

This is book is, frankly, hilarious. I first read it when I was about twelve or thirteen, and could not stop giggling. “Your hair is like a flock of goats”? Strange. How is that a compliment?

Any woman drawn by these descriptions would look pretty odd. (Like here.)

But at the heart of the Song of Songs is a deep, dramatic, devoted adoration of the beloved. The similes may sound a tad amusing, but they are rooted in deep affection and deep reality.

Like the above quote from my man Benedick, this poem unites two worlds. It is rooted in the “material world”. It addresses the physical beauties and difficulties that we know, from the immediately accessible similes, to the earnest admiration and desire beneath the words. It is deeply, deeply sensual. Often this is all read as a pure allegory, for when taken as literal truth it feels a bit . . . uncomfortable to read.

There is certainly that level of meaning, the allusion to the sacred union of God and the church, the devotion that we the Bride should feel for our intensely loving bridegroom. In Aquinas’ commentary, he opens up the meanings of the phrases that I find ridiculous, and layers their sweet expression with the sublime gravity and intensity of spiritual truth.

But it maintains both worlds, full in of themselves, within the same imagery. As poetry, it achieves what Allen calls the “symbolic imagination”.

And in doing so, it becomes one of the most beautiful books of the Bible.

It has the romantic devotion rightly ordered, the spiritual truth, the unity of spiritual and practical meaning, and the simplicity of two loving  hearts aching to be as one.

Er, simple. Yes.

It is, ultimately the most poetic retelling of the greatest love story.

Some phrases might make me laugh, still. But that is not a bad thing.

This poem it is intensely, devotedly, beautifully romantic.

Once a friend found me reading this, and he warned me quite seriously, “Be careful! That book might teach you to love!”


1 How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.
Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon;
your mouth is lovely.
Your temples behind your veil
are like the halves of a pomegranate.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
built with courses of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
Your breasts are like two fawns,
like twin fawns of a gazelle
that browse among the lilies.
Until the day breaks
and the shadows flee,
I will go to the mountain of myrrh
and to the hill of incense.
You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
there is no flaw in you.

Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
come with me from Lebanon.
Descend from the crest of Amana,
from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon,
from the lions’ dens
and the mountain haunts of leopards.
You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
10 How delightful is your love , my sister, my bride!
How much more pleasing is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your perfume
more than any spice!
11 Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride;
milk and honey are under your tongue.
The fragrance of your garments
is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
12 You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride;
you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.
13 Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
with choice fruits,
with henna and nard,
14     nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes
and all the finest spices.
15 You are a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon.


16 Awake, north wind,
and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread everywhere.
Let my beloved come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits.

Thursday Dances: Words With Which to Woo

I once heard of a couple girls (A and B, shall we say) who spent a day picking out what manner of engagement rings they wanted from a jeweler’s website: an exercise in aesthetics, perhaps.  This done, B told A’s boyfriend all about it so he could get exactly what A wanted without tipping her off.  On one hand, it seemed nice that he would trouble to learn her opinion – but on the other, it struck me that it should have been unnecessary.  Surely if he knew her well enough, he’d be able to discern whether she preferred antique or modern styles, round or square cuts, white or yellow gold.  Surely her character and personality would indicate what would suit her.

This post feels similar: picking out the things that seem shiny or seem to fit.  Any enterprising fellow who likes may feel free to use them, should he find opportunity.  But surely anyone interested in winning my heart would be able to find his own words.

…or perhaps not; “Sihaya” was the nickname an old boyfriend gave me, and I include it now though it has lost most of its power.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
– W. Shakespeare, Sonnet 29

“Joanna,” he said, “y’ ’ave saved my life, and I have saved yours; and we have seen blood flow, and been friends and enemies—ay, and I took my belt to thrash you; and all that time I thought ye were a boy.  But now death has me, and my time’s out, and before I die I must say this: Y’ are the best maid and the bravest under heaven, and, if only I could live, I would marry you blithely; and, live or die, I love you.”

“And, dear Dick—good Dick—but that ye can get me forth of this house before the morning, we must even kiss and say good-bye.”
“Nay,” said Dick, “not I; I will never say that word.  ’Tis like despair; but while there’s life, Joanna, there is hope.  Yet will I hope.  Ay, by the mass, and triumph!  Look ye, now, when ye were but a name to me, did I not follow—did I not rouse good men—did I not stake my life upon the quarrel?  And now that I have seen you for what ye are—the fairest maid and stateliest of England—think ye I would turn?—if the deep sea were there, I would straight through it; if the way were full of lions, I would scatter them like mice.”
“Ay,” she said, dryly, “ye make a great ado about a sky-blue robe!”
“Nay, Joan,” protested Dick, “’tis not alone the robe.”
– R. L. Stevenson, The Black Arrow

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
that you were beautiful, and that I strove
to love you in the old high way of love…
– W. B. Yeats, “Adam’s Curse”

O go you onward; where you are Shall honor and laughter be,
Past purpled forest and pearled foam, God’s winged pavilion free to roam,
Your face, that is a wandering home, A flying home for me.

– G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
– E. E. Cummings, “somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond”

“Miss Vane – I admired you for speaking as you did tonight. Detachment is a rare virtue, and very few people find it lovable, either in themselves or in others. If you ever find a person who likes you in spite of it – still more, because of it – that liking has very great value, because it is perfectly sincere and because, with that person, you will never need to be anything but sincere yourself.”

“Just exercise your devastating talent for keeping to the point and speaking the truth.”
“That sounds easy.”
“It is – for you. That’s what I love you for. Didn’t you know?

She had often wondered, in a detached kind of way, what it was that Peter valued in her and had apparently valued from that first day when she had stood in the dock and spoken for her own life. Now that she knew, she thought that a more unattractive pair of qualities could seldom have been put forward as an excuse for devotion.

“Placetne, magistra?”
– Lord Peter Wimsey, D. Sayers, Gaudy Night

“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower… I think that she has tamed me…”

To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you– the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Le Petit Prince

“You are Sihaya, the desert spring.”
– Paul Muad’dib, Frank Herbert, Dune

“Dying would have been the easy way never to have to answer your question,” he said, “or any questions, and if there is one thing that has always been true about you, it’s that you make me question myself — and questioning myself inevitably proves to me how little of myself exists to sustain that sort of interrogation. I know you, my dear, better than I know myself. You are whole and entire — loyal and honest and stupidly, amazingly stubborn and beautiful as you are — and I’m shadows and the ghost of old lies held together by good intentions and hope.”
– Not telling.  Muahah.