Books/Livros

E então, que quereis?…


Fiz ranger as folhas de jornal
abrindo-lhes as pálpebras piscantes.
E logo
de cada fronteira distante
subiu um cheiro de pólvora
perseguindo-me até em casa.
Nestes últimos vinte anos
nada de novo há
no rugir das tempestades.

Não estamos alegres,
é certo,
mas também por que razão
haveríamos de ficar tristes?
O mar da história
é agitado.
As ameaças
e as guerras
havemos de atravessá-las,
rompê-las ao meio,
cortando-as
como uma quilha corta
as ondas.

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Bem no fundo


No fundo, no fundo,
bem lá no fundo,
a gente gostaria
de ver nossos problemas
resolvidos por decreto

a partir desta data,
aquela mágoa sem remédio
é considerada nula
e sobre ela — silêncio perpétuo

extinto por lei todo o remorso,
maldito seja quem olhar pra trás,
lá pra trás não há nada,
e nada mais

mas problemas não se resolvem,
problemas têm família grande,
e aos domingos
saem todos a passear
o problema, sua senhora
e outros pequenos probleminhas.

Leminsky

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The mistletoe murder – A crime for Christmas: Part One


by PD. JAMES

ONE of the minor hazards of being a best- selling crime novelist is the ubiquitous question, ‘And have you ever been person- ally involved with a real-life murder investi- gation?’, a question occasionally asked with a look and tone which suggest that the Murder Squad of the Metropolitan Police might with advantage dig up my back gar- den. I invariably reply no, partly from reti- cence, partly because the truth would take too long to tell, and my part in it, even after 50 years, is difficult to justify. But now, at 70, the last survivor of that extraor- dinary Christmas of 1940, the story can surely safely be told, if only for my own sat- isfaction. I’ll call it ‘The Mistletoe Murder’. Mistletoe plays only a small part in the mystery but I’ve always liked alliteration in my titles. I have changed the names. There is now no one living to be hurt in feelings or reputation, but I don’t see why the dead should be denied a similar indulgence.

I was 18 when it happened, a young war widow; my husband was killed two weeks after our marriage, one of the first RAF pilots to be shot down in single combat. I had joined the WAAF, partly because I had convinced myself it would have pleased him, but primarily out of the need to assuage grief by a new life, new responsibil- ities. It didn’t work. Bereavement is like a serious illness. One dies or one survives, and the medicine is time, not a change of scene. I went through my preliminary train- ing in a mood of grim determination to see it through, but when my grandmother’s invitation came, just six weeks before Christmas, I accepted with relief. It solved a problem for me. I was an only child and my father, a doctor, had volunteered as a middle-aged recruit to the RAMC; my mother had taken herself off to America. A number of school friends, some also in the forces, wrote inviting me for Christmas, but I couldn’t face even the subdued festivities of wartime and feared that I should be a skeleton at their family feast.

I was curious, too, about my mother’s childhood home. She had never got on with her mother and after her marriage the rift was complete. I had met my grandmother only once in childhood and remembered her as formidable, sharp-tongued, and not particularly sympathetic to the young. But I was no longer young, except in years, and what her letter tactfully adumbrated — a warm house with plenty of wood fires, home cooking and good wine, peace and quiet — were just what I craved. There would be no other guests, but my cousin, Paul, hoped to be on leave for Christmas. I was curious to meet him. He was my only surviving cousin, the younger son of my mother’s brother and about six years older than I. We had never met, partly because of the family feud, partly because his moth- er was French and much of his childhood spent in that country. His elder brother had died when I was at school. I had a vague childhood memory of some disreputable secret, whispered about but never explained. My grandmother, in her letter, assured me that, apart from the three of us, there would only be the butler, Seddon, and his wife. She had taken the trouble to find out the time of a country bus which would leave Victoria at five p.m on Christ- mas Eve and take me as far as the nearest town, where Paul would meet me.

The horror of the murder, the concentra- tion on every hour of that traumatic Boxing Day, has diminished my memory of the journey and arrival. I recall Christmas Eve in a series of images, like a gritty black- and-white film, disjointed, a little surreal. The bus, blacked out, crawling, lights dimmed, through the unlit waste of the countryside under a reeling moon; the tall figure of my cousin coming forward out of the darkness to greet me at the terminus; sitting beside him, rug-wrapped, in his sports car as we drove through darkened villages through a sudden swirl of snow. But one image is clear and magical, my first sight of Stutleigh Manor. It loomed up out of the darkness, a stark shape against a grey sky pierced with a few high stars. And then the moon moved from behind a cloud and the house was revealed; beauty, sym- metry and mystery bathed in white light.

Five minutes later I followed the small circle of light from Paul’s torch through the porch with its country paraphernalia of walking-sticks, brogues, rubber boots and umbrellas, under the black-out curtain and into the warmth and brightness of the square hall. I remember the huge log fire in the hearth, the family portraits, the air of shabby comfort, and the mixed bunches of holly and mistletoe above the pictures and doors, which were the only Christmas decoration. My grandmother came slowly down the wide wooden stairs to greet me, smaller than I had remembered, delicately boned and slightly shorter even than my five-foot-three. But her handshake was sur- prisingly firm and, looking into the sharp, intelligent eyes, at the set of the obstinate mouth, so like my mother’s, I knew that she was still formidable.

I was glad I had come, glad to meet for the first time my only cousin, but my grand- mother had in one respect misled me. There was to be a second guest, a distant relation of the family, who had driven from London earlier and arrived before me. I met Rowland Maybrick for the first time when we gathered for drinks before dinner in a sitting-room to the left of the main hall. I disliked him on sight and was grate- ful to my grandmother for not having sug- gested that he should drive me from London. The crass insensitivity of his greet- ing — ‘You didn’t tell me, Paul, that I was to meet a pretty young widow’ — rein- forced my initial prejudice against what, with the intolerance of youth, I thought of as a type. He was in the uniform of a flight- lieutenant but without wings — Wingless Wonders, we used to describe them darkly handsome, full-mouthed under the thin moustache, his eyes amused and spec- ulative, a man who fancied his chances. had met his type before and hadn’t expect- ed to encounter it at the Manor. I learned that in civilian life he was an antique deal- er. Paul, perhaps sensing my disappoint- ment at finding that I wasn’t the only guest, explained that the family needed to sell some valuable coins. Rowland, who spe- cialised in coinage, was to sort and price them with a view to finding a purchaser. And he wasn’t only interested in coins. His gaze ranged over furniture, pictures, porce- lain and bronze, his long fingers touched and caressed as if he were mentally pricing them for sale. I suspected that, given half a chance, he would have pawed me and assessed my second-hand value.

My grandmother’s butler and cook, Indispensable small-part characters in any country house murder, were respectful and competent but deficient in seasonal good- will. My grandmother, if she gave the mat- ter thought, would probably have described them as faithful and devoted retainers, but I had my doubts. Even in 1940 things were changing. Mrs Seddon seemed to be both overworked and bored, a depressing com- bination, while her husband barely con- tained the lugubrious resentment of a man calculating how much more he could have earned as a war-worker at the nearest RAF base.

I liked my room; the four-poster with its faded curtains, the comfortable low chair beside the fire, the elegant little writing- desk, the prints and watercolours, fly-blown in their original frames. Before getting into bed I put out the bedside light and drew aside the black-out curtain. High stars and moonlight, a dangerous sky. But this was Christmas Eve. Surely they wouldn’t fly tonight. And I thought of women all over Europe drawing aside their curtains and looking up in hope and fear at the menac- ing moon.

I woke early next morning, missing the jangle of Christmas bells, bells which in

1940 would have heralded invasion. Next day the police were to take me through every minute of that Christmas, and every detail remains clearly in memory 52 years later.

After breakfast we exchanged presents. My grandmother had obviously raided her jewel-chest for her gift to me of a charming enamel and gold brooch, and I suspect that Paul’s offering, a Victorian ring, a garnet surrounded with seed pearls, came from the same source. I had come prepared. I parted with two of my personal treasures in the cause of family reconciliation, a first edition of A Shropshire Lad for Paul and an early edition of Diary of a Nobody for my grandmother. They were well received. Rowland’s contribution to the Christmas rations was three bottles of gin, packets of tea, coffee and sugar, and a pound of but- ter, probably filched from RAF stores. Just before mid-day the depleted local church choir arrived, sang half a dozen unaccom- panied carols embarrassingly out of tune, were grudgingly rewarded by Mrs Seddon with mulled wine and mince-pies and, with obvious relief, slipped out again through the black-out curtains to their Christmas dinners.

After a traditional meal served at one

o’clock, Paul asked me to go for a walk. I wasn’t sure why he wanted my company. He was almost silent as we tramped doggedly over the frozen furrows of deso- late fields and through birdless copses as joylessly as if on a route march. The snow had stopped falling but a thin crust lay crisp and white under a gunmetal sky. As the light faded, we returned home and saw the back of the blacked-out manor, a grey L-shape against the whiteness. Suddenly, with an unexpected change of mood, Paul began scooping up the snow. No one receiving the icy slap of a snowball in the face can resist retaliation, and we spent 20 minutes or so like school-children, laughing and hurling snow at each other and at the house, until the snow on the lawn and grav- el path had been churned into slush.

The evening was spent in desultory talk in the sitting-room, in dozing and reading. The supper was light, soup and herb omelettes — a welcome contrast to the heaviness of the goose and Christmas pud- ding — served very early, as was the cus- tom, so that the Seddons could get away to spend the night with friends in the village. After dinner we moved again to the ground-floor sitting-room. Rowland put on the gramophone, then suddenly seized my hands and said, ‘Let’s dance.’ The gramo- phone was the kind that automatically played a series of records and as one popu- lar disc dropped after another — `Jeepers Creepers’, ‘Beer Barrel Polka’, ‘Tiger Rag’, `Deep Purple’ — we waltzed, tangoed, fox- trotted, quick-stepped round the sitting- room and out into the hall. Rowland was a superb dancer. I hadn’t danced since Alas- tair’s death but now, caught up in the exu- berance of movement and rhythm, I forgot my antagonism and concentrated on fol- lowing his increasingly complicated lead, The spell was broken when, breaking into a waltz across the hall and tightening his grasp, he said:

`Our young hero seems a little subdued. Perhaps he’s having second thoughts about this job he’s volunteered for.’

`What job?’

`Can’t you guess? French mother, Sor- bonne educated, speaks French like a native, knows the country. He’s a natural.’

I didn’t reply. I wondered how he knew, if he had a right to know. He went on: `There comes a moment when these gal- lant chaps realise that it isn’t play-acting any more. From now on it’s for real. Enemy territory beneath you, not dear old Blighty; real Germans, real knives, real tor- ture-chambers and real pain.’

I thought: And real death, and slipped out of his arms hearing, as I re-entered the sitting-room, his low laugh at my back.

Shortly before ten o’clock my grand- mother went up to bed, telling Rowland that she would get the coins out of the study safe and leave them with him. He was due to drive back to London the next day; it would be helpful if he could examine them tonight. He sprang up at once and they left the room _together. Her final words to Paul were: `There’s an Edgar Wallace play on the Home Service which I may listen to. It ends at 11. Come to say goodnight then, if you will, Paul, Don’t leave it any later.’

As soon as they’d left, Paul said: ‘Let’s have the music of the enemy’, and replaced the dance records with Wagner. As I read, he got out a pack of cards from the small desk and played a game of patience, scoptl- ing at the cards with furious concentration while the Wagner, much too loud, beat against my ears. When the carriage-clOck on the mantelpiece struck 11, heard in a lull in the music, he swept the cards togeth- er and said: `Time to say goodnight to Grandmama. Is there anything you want?

`No,’ I said, a little surprised. ‘Nothing.’

What I did want was the music a little less loud and when he left the room I turned it down. He was back very quickly. When the police questioned me next day, I told them that I estimated that he was away for about three minutes. It certainly couldn’t have been longer. He said calmly: `Grandmama wants to see you.’

We left the sitting-room together and crossed the hall. It was then that my senses, preternaturally acute, noticed two facts. One I told the police; the other I didn’t. Six mistletoe berries had dropped from the mixed bunch of mistletoe and holly fixed to the lintel above the library door and lay like scattered pearls on the polished floor. And at the foot of the stairs there was a small puddle of water. Seeing my glance, Paul took out his handkerchief and mopped it up. He said: `I should be able to take a drink up to Grandmama without spilling it.’

She was propped up in bed under the canopy of the four-poster, looking dimin- ished, no longer formidable, but a tired, very old woman. I saw with pleasure that she had been reading the book I’d given her. It lay open on the round bedside table beside the table-lamp, her wireless, the ele- gant little clock, the small half-full carafe of water with a glass resting over its rim, and a porcelain model of a hand rising from a frilled cuff on which she had placed her rings. She held out her hand to me; the fin- gers were limp, the hand cold and listless, the grasp very different from the firm handshake with which she had first greeted me. She said: `Just to say goodnight, my dear, and thank you for coming. In wartime, family feuds are an indulgence we can no longer afford.’

On impulse I bent down and kissed her forehead. It was moist under my lips. The gesture was a mistake. Whatever it was she wanted from me, it wasn’t affection.

We returned to the sitting-room. Paul asked me if I drank whisky When I said that I disliked it, he fetched from the drinks cupboard a bottle for himself and a decanter of claret, then took up the pack of cards again, and suggested that he should teach me poker. So that was how I spent Christmas night from about 11.10 until nearly two in the morning, playing endless games of cards, listening to Wagner and Beethoven, hearing the crackle and hiss of burning logs as I kept up the fire, watching my cousin drink steadily until the whisky bottle was empty. In the end I accepted a glass of claret. It seemed both churlish and censorious to let him drink alone. The car- riage-clock struck 1.45 before he roused himself and said: `Sorry, cousin. Rather drun.k. Be glad of your shoulder. To bed, to sleep, perchance to dream.’

We made slow progress up the stairs. I opened his door while he stood propped against the wall. The smell of whisky was only faint on his breath. Then with my help he staggered over to the bed, crashed down and was still.

At eight p’clock next morning Mrs Sed- don brought in my tray of early morning tea, switched on the electric fire and went quietly out with an expressionless, ‘Good morning, madam.’ Half awake, I reached over to pour the first cup when there was a hurried knock, the door opened, and Paul entered. He was already dressed and, to my surprise, showed no signs of a hangover. He said: `You haven’t seen Maybrick this morn- ing, have you?’

`I’ve only just woken up.’

`Mrs Seddon told me his bed hadn’t been slept in. I’ve just checked. He doesn’t appear to be anywhere in the house. And the library door is locked.’

Some of his urgency conveyed itself to me. He held out my dressing-gown and I slipped into it and, after a second’s thought, pushed my feet into my outdoor shoes, not my bedroom slippers. I said: `Where’s the library key?’

`On the inside of the library door. We’ve only the one.’

The hall was dim, even when Paul switched on the light, and the fallen berries from the mistletoe over the study door still gleamed milk-white on the dark wooden floor. I tried the door and, leaning down, looked through the keyhole. Paul was right, the key was in the lock. He said: `We’ll get in through the French win- dows. We may have to break the glass.’

We went out by a door in the north wing. The air stung my face. The night had been frosty and the thin covering of snow was still crisp except where Paul and I had frol- icked the previous day. Outside the library was a small patio about six feet in width leading to a gravel path bordering the lawn.

The double set of footprints was plain to see. Someone had entered the library by the French windows and then left by the same route. The footprints were large, a lit- tle amorphous, probably made, I thought, by a smooth-soled rubber boot, the first set partly overlaid by the second. Paul warned:

`Don’t disturb the prints. We’ll edge our way close to the wall.’

`The door in the French windows was closed but not locked. Paul, his back hard against the window, stretched out a hand to open it, slipped inside and drew aside first the black-out curtain and then the heavy brocade. I followed. The room was dark except for the single green-shaded lamp on the desk. I moved slowly towards it in fasci- nated disbelief, my heart thudding, hearing behind me a rasp as Paul violently swung back the two sets of curtains. The room was suddenly filled with a clear morning light annihilating the green glow, making horribly visible the thing sprawled over the desk.

He had been killed by a single blow of immense force which had crushed the top of his head. Both his arms were stretched out sideways, resting on the desk. His left shoulder sagged as if it, too, had been struck, and the hand was a spiked mess of splintered bone in a pulp of congealed blood. The face of his heavy gold wrist- watch had been smashed and tiny frag- ments of glass glittered on the desk top like diamonds. Some of the coins had rolled onto the carpet and the rest littered the desk, sent jangling and scattering by the force of the blows. Looking up, I checked that the key was indeed in the lock. Paul was peering at the smashed wrist-watch. He said; ‘Half-past ten. Either he was killed then or we’re meant to believe he was.’

There was a telephone beside the door and I waited, not moving, while he got through to the exchange and called the police. Then he unlocked the door and we went out together. He turned to re-lock it — it turned noiselessly as if recently oiled — and pocketed the key. It was then that noticed that we had squashed some of the fallen mistletoe berries into pulp.

***

Inspector George Blandy arrived within 30 minutes. He was a solidly built country- man, his straw-coloured hair so thick that it looked like thatch above the square, weath- er-mottled face. He spoke and moved with deliberation, whether from habit or because he was still recovering from an over-indulgent Christmas it was impossible. to say. He was followed soon afterwards by the Chief Constable himself. Paul had told me about him. Sir Rouse Armstrong was an ex-colonial governor, and one of the last of the old school of chief constables, obvi- ously past normal retiring age. He was very tall with the face of a meditative eagle; he greeted my grandmother by her Christian name and followed her upstairs to her pri- vate sitting-room with the grave conspirato- rial air of a man called in to advise on some urgent and faintly embarrassing family liminess. I had the feeling that Inspector Blandy was slightly intimidated by his pres- ence and I hadn’t much doubt who would be effectively in charge of this investiga- tion.

I expect you are thinking that this is typi- cal Agatha Christie, and you are right: that’s exactly how it struck me at the time. But one forgets, homicide rate excepted, how similar my mother’s England was to Dame Agatha’s Mayhem Parva. And it seems entirely appropriate that the body should have been discovered in the library, that most fatal room in popular British fic- tion.

The body couldn’t be moved until the police surgeon arrived. He was at an ama- teur pantomime in the local town and it took some time to reach him. Dr Bywaters was a rotund, short, self-important little man, red-haired and red-faced, whose nat- ural irascibility would, I thought, have dete- riorated into active ill-humour if the crime had been less portentous than murder and the place less prestigious than the Manor.

Paul and I were tactfully excluded from the study while he made his examination. Grandmama had decided to remain upstairs in her sitting-room. The Seddons, fortified by the consciousness of an unas- sailable alibi, were occupied making and serving sandwiches and endless cups of cof- fee and tea, and seemed for the first time to be enjoying themselves. Rowland’s Christmas offerings were coming in useful and, to do him justice, I think the knowl- edge would have amused him. Heavy foot- steps tramped backwards and forwards across the hall, cars arrived and departed, telephone calls were made. The police measured, conferred, photographed.

The body was eventually taken away shrouded on a stretcher and lifted into a sinister little black van while Paul and I watched from the sitting-room window. Our fingerprints had been taken, the police explained, to exclude them from any found on the desk. It was an odd sensation to have my fingers gently held and pressed onto what I remember as a kind of ink-pad. We were, of course, questioned, separately and together. I can remember sitting oppo- site Inspector Blandy, his large frame fill- ing one of the armchairs in the sitting- room, his heavy legs planted on the carpet, as conscientiously he went through every detail of Christmas Day. It was only then that I realised that I had spent almost every minute of it in the company of my cousin.

At 7.30 the police were still in the house. Paul invited the Chief Constable to dinner, but he declined, less, I thought, because of any reluctance to break bread with possible suspects than from a need to return to his grandchildren. Before leaving he paid a prolonged visit to my grandmother in her room, then returned to the sitting-room to report on the results of the day’s activities. I wondered whether he would have been as forthcoming if the victim had been a farm labourer and the place the local pub.

He delivered his account with the stacca- to self-satisfaction of a man confident that he’s done a good day’s work.

`I’m not calling in the Yard. I did eight years ago when we had our last murder. Big mistake. All they did was upset the locals. The facts are plain enough. He was killed by a single blow delivered with great force from across the desk and while he was rising from the chair. Weapon, a heavy blunt instrument. The skull was crushed but there was little bleeding — well, you saw for yourselves. I’d say he was a tall murderer, Maybrick was over six foot two.

`We always have Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.’ He came through the French windows and went out the same way. We can’t get much from the footprints, too amorphous, but they’re plain enough, the second set over- laying the first. Could have been a casual thief, perhaps a deserter, we’ve had one or two incidents lately. The blow could have been delivered with a rifle-butt. It would be about right for reach and weight. The library door to the garden may have been left open. Your grandmother told Seddon she’d see to the locking up but asked May- brick to check on the library before he went to bed. In the black-out the murderer wouldn’t have known the library was occu- pied. Probably tried the door, went in, caught a gleam of the money and killed almost on impulse.’

Paul asked: ‘Then why not steal the coins?’

`Saw that they weren’t legal tender. Diffi- cult to get rid of. Or he might have pan- icked or thought he heard a noise.’

Paul asked: ‘And the locked door into the hall?’

`Murderer saw the key and turned it to prevent the body being discovered before he had a chance to get well away.’

He paused, and his face assumed a look of cunning which sat oddly on the aquiline, somewhat supercilious features. He said: `An alternative theory is that Maybrick locked himself in. Expected a secret visitor and didn’t want to be disturbed. One ques- tion I have to ask you, my boy. Rather deli- cate. How well did you know Maybrick?’

Paul said: ‘Only slightly. He’s a second cousin.’

`You trusted him? Forgive my asking.’

`We had no reason to distrust him. My grandmother wouldn’t have asked him to sell the coins for her if she’d had any doubts. He is family. Distant, but still fami- ly.’

`Of course. Family.’ He paused, then went on: ‘It did occur to me that this could have been a staged attack which went over the top. He could have arranged with an accomplice to steal the coins. We’re asking the Yard to look at his London connec- tions.’

I was tempted to say that a faked attack which left the pretend victim with a pulped brain had gone spectacularly over the top, but I remained silent. The Chief Constable could hardly order me out of the sitting- room — after all, I had been present at the discovery of the body — but I sensed his disapproval at my obvious interest. A young woman of proper feeling would have followed my grandmother’s example and taken to her room.

Paul said: ‘Isn’t there something odd about that smashed watch? The fatal blow to the head looked so deliberate. But then he strikes again and smashes the hand. Could that have been to establish the exact time of death? If so, why? Or could he have altered the watch before smashing it? Could Maybrick have been killed later”?’

The Chief Constable was indulgent to this fancy: ‘A bit far-fetched, my boy. I think we’ve established the time of death pretty accurately. Bywaters puts it at between ten and eleven, judging by the degree of rigor. And we can’t be sure in what order the killer struck. He could have hit the hand and shoulder first, and then the head. Or he could have gone for the head, then hit out wildly in panic. Pity you didn’t hear anything, though.’

Paul said: ‘We had the gramophone on pretty loudly and the doors and walls are very solid. And I’m afraid that by 11.30 I wasn’t in a state to notice much.’

As Sir Rouse rose to go, Paul asked: ‘I’ll be glad to have the use of the library if you’ve finished with it, or do you want to seal the door?’

`No, my boy, that’s not necessary. We’ve done all we need to do. No prints, of course, but then we didn’t expect to find them. They’ll be on the weapon, no doubt, unless he wore gloves. But he’s taken the weapon away with him.’ The house seemed very quiet after the police had left. My grandmother, still in her room, had dinner on a tray and Paul and I, perhaps unwilling to face that empty chair in the dining-room, made do with soup and sandwiches in the sitting-room. I was restless, physically exhausted; I was also a little frightened. It would have helped if I could have spoken about the murder but Paul said wearily: `Let’s give it a rest. We’ve had enough of death for one day.’

So we sat in silence. From 7.40 we lis- tened to Radio Vaudeville on the Home Service. Billy Cotton and his Band, the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Adrian Boult. After the nine o’clock news and the 9.20 War Commentary, Paul murmured that he’d better check with Seddon that he’d locked up.

It was then that, partly on impulse, I made my way across the hall to the library. I turned the door-handle gently as if I `Because I want to find out whether you’ve been naughty or nice, Tommy. That’s why I want you to take this lie detector test . . feared to see Rowland still sitting at the desk sorting through the coins with avari- cious fingers. The black-out curtain was drawn, the room smelled of old books, not blood. The desk, its top clear, was an ordi- nary unfrightening piece of furniture, the chair neatly in place. I stood at the door convinced that this room held a clue to the mystery.

Then, partly from curiosity, I moved over to the desk and pulled out the drawers. On either side was a deep drawer with two shallower ones above it. The left was so crammed with papers and files that I had difficulty in opening it. The right-hand deep drawer was clear. I opened the small- er drawer above it. It contained a collection of bills and receipts. Riffling among them I found a receipt for £3,200 from a London coin dealer listing the purchase and dated five weeks previously.

There was nothing else of interest. I closed the drawer and began pacing and measuring the distance from desk to the French windows. It was then that the door opened almost soundlessly and I saw my cousin.

Coming up quietly beside me, he said lightly: ‘What are you doing? Trying to exorcise the horror?’

I replied: ‘Something like that.’

For a moment we stood in silence. Then he took my hand in his, drawing it through his arm. He said: `I’m sorry, cousin, it’s been a beastly day for you. And all we wanted was to give you a peaceful Christmas.’

I didn’t reply. I was aware of his near- ness, the warmth of his body, his strength. As we moved together to the door I thought, but did not say: ‘Was that really what you wanted, to give me a peaceful Christmas? Was that all?’

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Gravy, by Raymond Carver


No other word will do. For that’s what it was.
Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it”.

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Ausência


Por muito tempo achei que a ausência é falta.
E lastimava, ignorante, a falta.
Hoje não a lastimo.
Não há falta na ausência.
A ausência é um estar em mim.
E sinto-a, branca, tão pegada, aconchegada nos meus braços,
que rio e danço e invento exclamações alegres,
porque a ausência, essa ausência assimilada,
ninguém a rouba mais de mim.

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Elegia 1938 (Carlos Drummond de Andrade)


Trabalhas sem alegria para um mundo caduco,
onde as formas e as ações não encerram nenhum exemplo.
Praticas laboriosamente os gestos universais,
sentes calor e frio, falta de dinheiro, fome e desejo sexual.

Heróis enchem os parques da cidade em que te arrastas,
e preconizam a virtude, a renúncia, o sangue-frio, a concepção.
À noite, se neblina, abrem guardas chuvas de bronze
ou se recolhem aos volumes de sinistras bibliotecas.

Amas a noite pelo poder de aniquilamento que encerra
e sabes que, dormindo, os problemas te dispensam de morrer.
Mas o terrível despertar prova a existência da Grande Máquina
e te repõe, pequenino, em face de indecifráveis palmeiras.

Caminhas entre mortos e com eles conversas
sobre coisas do tempo futuro e negócios do espírito.
A literatura estragou tuas melhores horas de amor.
Ao telefone perdeste muito, muitíssimo tempo de semear.

Coração orgulhoso, tens pressa de confessar tua derrota
e adiar para outro século a felicidade coletiva.
Aceitas a chuva, a guerra, o desemprego e a injusta distribuição
porque não podes, sozinho, dinamitar a ilha de Manhattan.

(Poema publicado em Antologia Poética – 12a edição – Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1978, p. 107)

&&&&&&&

A contemporaneidade de “Elegia 1938”, de Carlos Drummond de Andrade
Diante da decadência de uma sociedade que perde gradualmente seus referenciais, o poeta critica a mecanização do homem e a falta de sentido da vida

Sinvaldo Júnior
Especial para o Jornal Opção

Os temas políticos, o so­frimento do ser hu­ma­no e as guerras, a solidão, o mundo frágil, os seres solitários e impotentes ante o sistema são uma das facetas da poesia drummondiana. Num mundo em que se prezam os conflitos (so­bretudo com os quais não se aprende, mas se destrói), a automatização do homem, o cinismo, a indiferença, a hipocrisia, cabe ao poeta, lírico e angustiadamente (dada a sua impotência), cantar este mundo tal como ele é, visto que não pode, sozinho, modificá-lo — é o que se percebe no poema “Elegia 1938”, de Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

Elegia? O que é isso? É um poema composto de versos hexâmetros e pentâmetros alternados — conceito que não se encaixa ao poema em questão —, ou poema lírico de tom terno e triste; canção de lamento — conceitos que se encaixam plenamente com o tom e a temática do poema de Drum­mond.

Embora o sistema do mundo não ofereça nenhum exemplo, nada que verdadeiramente valha a pena, o homem é o maior construtor desse mundo, para o qual trabalha e, em consequência indireta, sente calor, frio, falta de dinheiro, fome e desejo sexual, o que denota sua incoerência ou tamanha cegueira, pois, pergunta-se: por que se ocupar com trabalhos que nada lhe oferecem mas, ao contrário, lhe privam de verdadeiramente viver?; por que contribuir para um sistema que dá mais importância ao capital?; por que se conformar em fazer o que todos fazem (gestos universais) se, mesmo dedicado (cegamente dedicado), não se ganha nada em troca? — são questões levantadas pelo poema, cuja atualidade nos espanta. Ou não?

Os heróis (aí cabe uma ironiazinha) fazem apologia à virtude (mas inventam guerras e matam), à renúncia (mas são vaidosos), ao sangue-frio (mas pregam o ódio) — discurso que contribui e corrobora o verdadeiro intento do sistema e de seus criadores: cegar, desindividualizar o ser humano o máximo possível, porque assim é mais fácil enganar. Prega-se uma coisa aos seguidores (cegos trabalhadores), mas os “heróis” fazem outra, o oposto e, poderosos, possuem direitos que os meros mortais não possuem, como abrir guarda-chuvas de bronze ou se recolher a sinistras bibliotecas quando, à noite, neblina. E jamais — jamais — aceitariam ser destituídos dos seus privilégios em prol do outro, até porque não aceita nem enxerga a alteridade do outro.

A impotência é explícita e inevitável: Amas a noite pelo poder de aniquilamento que encerra — única forma de fuga da realidade, válvula de escape. O sono é comparado à morte, pois dormindo, os problemas te dispensam de morrer. Porém, o subterfúgio é efêmero, dado que, ao despertar, tudo volta ao que/como era antes: a Grande Máquina (com letras maiúsculas) existe, é real, posto que invisível (impalpável), o que dificulta uma possível luta contra ela. O ser humano, pequenino, se confronta (confronta?) com o sistema, grandioso. Mas é a insignificância do homem, ante esse mundo, que, na verdade, sobressai. Sim, somos insignificantes. Ou ainda duvida disso?

Mortos, na quarta estrofe, pode equivaler às pessoas inseridas nesse (neste) contexto inumano — metáfora do ser humano, tal qual ele é, visto que, automático, passivo, conformado, é como se realmente morto estivesse. E não está? Os assuntos das conversas se referem — sempre, sempre — ao futuro: esperança adiada. E mais fugas: horas de amor e tempo de semear (sensações concretas e produtivas) são trocados por literatura e telefone (prazeres passageiros e improdutivos, porque segundo muitos a literatura é, de fato, inútil).

Em virtude de tudo isso, basta (infelizmente) conformar-se, adiar para outro século a felicidade coletiva, aceitar (a chuva, contra a qual nada se pode fazer), a guerra, o desemprego e a injusta distribuição (contra as quais muito se poderia (e pode) fazer, mas se…), pois não é possível, sozinho, dinamitar a ilha de Manhattan (símbolo, no passado e mesmo agora, decorridos 74 anos, do sistema capitalista, o qual é o corresponsável por tudo (ou nada). Resta, portanto, a revolta contida, a incapacidade — a frustração. O que mais restaria?

É, assim, possível fazer um paralelo do ano de 1938 (ano em que foi escrito o poema e ao qual se refere) e o século 21 (pleno…), pois se percebe que nada, ou pouco, mudou — daí a (infeliz) contemporaneidade do poema. Escrito um ano antes do início da Segunda Guerra Mundial, em que poderosos ditavam e subordinados cumpriam, em que homens (cegos ou indiferentes) se conformavam com o status quo (mesmo que esse status quo os oprimissem, os robotizassem, os subjugassem, os matassem) — época que se assemelha ao contexto vigente (de servilismo, de pseudodemocracia, de guerras (injustificáveis), de ditadores (camuflados), de falta de organização e cooperação entre indivíduos realmente individuais). Época, sobretudo e consequentemente, de frustrações, porque sozinho (talvez com um trabalho conjunto sim, vide [aqui cabe uma pitada de humor negro] o World Trade Center em setembro de 2001), não se pode — por mais que se queira — explodir Nova York, símbolo, ainda hoje, de poderio, do capitalismo, de dinheiro, de imperialismo, causas, mesmo que indiretas (é sensato não sermos simplistas), de grandes males da humanidade.

Os poetas (dentre eles Carlos Drummond) existem, felizmente, para explicitar e cantar e escancarar o medo: o medo dos soldados, o medo dos ditadores, o medo dos democratas. É uma voz que destoa, ou deveria destoar. Dessa voz (des)toante, claro está, surge libertações. Libertações inúteis que não mudam o mundo, posto que são libertações individuais e individualistas. Somente de um conjunto de vozes destoantes, mas harmônicas, surgiria a verdadeira libertação. Utopia? Sim, mas a utopia é sempre melhor do que a cegueira e o cinismo. Ou não?

Sinvaldo Júnior é escritor. Doutorando em Literatura.

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


BY SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
(text of 1834)

Argument

How a Ship having passed the Line was driven by storms to the cold Country towards the South Pole; and how from thence she made her course to the tropical Latitude of the Great Pacific Ocean; and of the strange things that befell; and in what manner the Ancyent Marinere came back to his own Country.

PART I

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—’
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.

It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner’s hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.’

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.

PART II

The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariner’s hollo!

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ‘em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head,
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.

And some in dreams assurèd were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

PART III

There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time! a weary time!
How glazed each weary eye,

When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist;
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water-sprite,
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could nor laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in.
As they were drinking all.

See! see! (I cried) she tacks no more!
Hither to work us weal;
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadies with upright keel!

The western wave was all a-flame.
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.

And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,
Like restless gossameres?

Are those her ribs through which the Sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a DEATH? and are there two?
Is DEATH that woman’s mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
‘The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!’
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out;
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.

We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dew did drip—
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The hornèd Moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

The souls did from their bodies fly,—
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul, it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my cross-bow!

PART IV

‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.

I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown.’—
Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding-Guest!
This body dropt not down.

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay dead like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.

The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.

An orphan’s curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man’s eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.

The moving Moon went up the sky,
And no where did abide:
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside—

Her beams bemocked the sultry main,
Like April hoar-frost spread;
But where the ship’s huge shadow lay,
The charmèd water burnt alway
A still and awful red.

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.

O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.

PART V

Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary Queen the praise be given!
She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven,
That slid into my soul.

The silly buckets on the deck,
That had so long remained,
I dreamt that they were filled with dew;
And when I awoke, it rained.

My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments all were dank;
Sure I had drunken in my dreams,
And still my body drank.

I moved, and could not feel my limbs:
I was so light—almost
I thought that I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed ghost.

And soon I heard a roaring wind:
It did not come anear;
But with its sound it shook the sails,
That were so thin and sere.

The upper air burst into life!
And a hundred fire-flags sheen,
To and fro they were hurried about!
And to and fro, and in and out,
The wan stars danced between.

And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge,
And the rain poured down from one black cloud;
The Moon was at its edge.

The thick black cloud was cleft, and still
The Moon was at its side:
Like waters shot from some high crag,
The lightning fell with never a jag,
A river steep and wide.

The loud wind never reached the ship,
Yet now the ship moved on!
Beneath the lightning and the Moon
The dead men gave a groan.

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;
Yet never a breeze up-blew;
The mariners all ‘gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do;
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools—
We were a ghastly crew.

The body of my brother’s son
Stood by me, knee to knee:
The body and I pulled at one rope,
But he said nought to me.

‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!’
Be calm, thou Wedding-Guest!
‘Twas not those souls that fled in pain,
Which to their corses came again,
But a troop of spirits blest:

For when it dawned—they dropped their arms,
And clustered round the mast;
Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths,
And from their bodies passed.

Around, around, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted to the Sun;
Slowly the sounds came back again,
Now mixed, now one by one.

Sometimes a-dropping from the sky
I heard the sky-lark sing;
Sometimes all little birds that are,
How they seemed to fill the sea and air
With their sweet jargoning!

And now ‘twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute;
And now it is an angel’s song,
That makes the heavens be mute.

It ceased; yet still the sails made on
A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.

Till noon we quietly sailed on,
Yet never a breeze did breathe:
Slowly and smoothly went the ship,
Moved onward from beneath.

Under the keel nine fathom deep,
From the land of mist and snow,
The spirit slid: and it was he
That made the ship to go.
The sails at noon left off their tune,
And the ship stood still also.

The Sun, right up above the mast,
Had fixed her to the ocean:
But in a minute she ‘gan stir,
With a short uneasy motion—
Backwards and forwards half her length
With a short uneasy motion.

Then like a pawing horse let go,
She made a sudden bound:
It flung the blood into my head,
And I fell down in a swound.

How long in that same fit I lay,
I have not to declare;
But ere my living life returned,
I heard and in my soul discerned
Two voices in the air.

‘Is it he?’ quoth one, ‘Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless Albatross.

The spirit who bideth by himself
In the land of mist and snow,
He loved the bird that loved the man
Who shot him with his bow.’

The other was a softer voice,
As soft as honey-dew:
Quoth he, ‘The man hath penance done,
And penance more will do.’

PART VI

First Voice
‘But tell me, tell me! speak again,
Thy soft response renewing—
What makes that ship drive on so fast?
What is the ocean doing?’

Second Voice
Still as a slave before his lord,
The ocean hath no blast;
His great bright eye most silently
Up to the Moon is cast—

If he may know which way to go;
For she guides him smooth or grim.
See, brother, see! how graciously
She looketh down on him.’

First Voice
‘But why drives on that ship so fast,
Without or wave or wind?’

Second Voice
‘The air is cut away before,
And closes from behind.

Fly, brother, fly! more high, more high!
Or we shall be belated:
For slow and slow that ship will go,
When the Mariner’s trance is abated.’

I woke, and we were sailing on
As in a gentle weather:
‘Twas night, calm night, the moon was high;
The dead men stood together.

All stood together on the deck,
For a charnel-dungeon fitter:
All fixed on me their stony eyes,
That in the Moon did glitter.

The pang, the curse, with which they died,
Had never passed away:
I could not draw my eyes from theirs,
Nor turn them up to pray.

And now this spell was snapt: once more
I viewed the ocean green,
And looked far forth, yet little saw
Of what had else been seen—

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed a wind on me,
Nor sound nor motion made:
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade.

It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring—
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze—
On me alone it blew.

Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The light-house top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this mine own countree?

We drifted o’er the harbour-bar,
And I with sobs did pray—
O let me be awake, my God!
Or let me sleep alway.

The harbour-bay was clear as glass,
So smoothly it was strewn!
And on the bay the moonlight lay,
And the shadow of the Moon.

The rock shone bright, the kirk no less,
That stands above the rock:
The moonlight steeped in silentness
The steady weathercock.

And the bay was white with silent light,
Till rising from the same,
Full many shapes, that shadows were,
In crimson colours came.

A little distance from the prow
Those crimson shadows were:
I turned my eyes upon the deck—
Oh, Christ! what saw I there!

Each corse lay flat, lifeless and flat,
And, by the holy rood!
A man all light, a seraph-man,
On every corse there stood.

This seraph-band, each waved his hand:
It was a heavenly sight!
They stood as signals to the land,
Each one a lovely light;

This seraph-band, each waved his hand,
No voice did they impart—
No voice; but oh! the silence sank
Like music on my heart.

But soon I heard the dash of oars,
I heard the Pilot’s cheer;
My head was turned perforce away
And I saw a boat appear.

The Pilot and the Pilot’s boy,
I heard them coming fast:
Dear Lord in Heaven! it was a joy
The dead men could not blast.

I saw a third—I heard his voice:
It is the Hermit good!
He singeth loud his godly hymns
That he makes in the wood.
He’ll shrieve my soul, he’ll wash away
The Albatross’s blood.

PART VII

This Hermit good lives in that wood
Which slopes down to the sea.
How loudly his sweet voice he rears!
He loves to talk with marineres
That come from a far countree.

He kneels at morn, and noon, and eve—
He hath a cushion plump:
It is the moss that wholly hides
The rotted old oak-stump.

The skiff-boat neared: I heard them talk,
‘Why, this is strange, I trow!
Where are those lights so many and fair,
That signal made but now?’

‘Strange, by my faith!’ the Hermit said—
‘And they answered not our cheer!
The planks looked warped! and see those sails,
How thin they are and sere!
I never saw aught like to them,
Unless perchance it were

Brown skeletons of leaves that lag
My forest-brook along;
When the ivy-tod is heavy with snow,
And the owlet whoops to the wolf below,
That eats the she-wolf’s young.’

‘Dear Lord! it hath a fiendish look—
(The Pilot made reply)
I am a-feared’—’Push on, push on!’
Said the Hermit cheerily.

The boat came closer to the ship,
But I nor spake nor stirred;
The boat came close beneath the ship,
And straight a sound was heard.

Under the water it rumbled on,
Still louder and more dread:
It reached the ship, it split the bay;
The ship went down like lead.

Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound,
Which sky and ocean smote,
Like one that hath been seven days drowned
My body lay afloat;
But swift as dreams, myself I found
Within the Pilot’s boat.

Upon the whirl, where sank the ship,
The boat spun round and round;
And all was still, save that the hill
Was telling of the sound.

I moved my lips—the Pilot shrieked
And fell down in a fit;
The holy Hermit raised his eyes,
And prayed where he did sit.

I took the oars: the Pilot’s boy,
Who now doth crazy go,
Laughed loud and long, and all the while
His eyes went to and fro.
‘Ha! ha!’ quoth he, ‘full plain I see,
The Devil knows how to row.’

And now, all in my own countree,
I stood on the firm land!
The Hermit stepped forth from the boat,
And scarcely he could stand.

‘O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!’
The Hermit crossed his brow.
‘Say quick,’ quoth he, ‘I bid thee say—
What manner of man art thou?’

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.

What loud uproar bursts from that door!
The wedding-guests are there:
But in the garden-bower the bride
And bride-maids singing are:
And hark the little vesper bell,
Which biddeth me to prayer!

O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide wide sea:
So lonely ‘twas, that God himself
Scarce seemèd there to be.

O sweeter than the marriage-feast,
‘Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!—

To walk together to the kirk,
And all together pray,
While each to his great Father bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends
And youths and maidens gay!

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom’s door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

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Notes on Writing Weird Fiction


By H. P. Lovecraft

My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature. I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. The reason why time plays a great part in so many of my tales is that this element looms up in my mind as the most profoundly dramatic and grimly terrible thing in the universe. Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.

While my chosen form of story-writing is obviously a special and perhaps a narrow one, it is none the less a persistent and permanent type of expression, as old as literature itself. There will always be a small percentage of persons who feel a burning curiosity about unknown outer space, and a burning desire to escape from the prison-house of the known and the real into those enchanted lands of incredible adventure and infinite possibilities which dreams open up to us, and which things like deep woods, fantastic urban towers, and flaming sunsets momentarily suggest. These persons include great authors as well as insignificant amateurs like myself—Dunsany, Poe, Arthur Machen, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and Walter de la Mare being typical masters in this field.]

As to how I write a story—there is no one way. Each one of my tales has a different history. Once or twice I have literally written out a dream; but usually I start with a mood or idea or image which I wish to express, and revolve it in my mind until I can think of a good way of embodying it in some chain of dramatic occurrences capable of being recorded in concrete terms. I tend to run through a mental list of the basic conditions or situations best adapted to such a mood or idea or image, and then begin to speculate on logical and naturally motivated explanations of the given mood or idea or image in terms of the basic condition or situation chosen.

The actual process of writing is of course as varied as the choice of theme and initial conception; but if the history of all my tales were analysed, it is just possible that the following set of rules might be deduced from the average procedure:

(1) Prepare a synopsis or scenario of events in the order of their absolute occurrence — not the order of their narration. Describe with enough fulness to cover all vital points and motivate all incidents planned. Details, comments, and estimates of consequences are sometimes desirable in this temporary framework.
(2) Prepare a second synopsis or scenario of events — this one in order of narration (not actual occurrence), with ample fulness and detail, and with notes as to changing perspective, stresses, and climax. Change the original synopsis to fit if such a change will increase the dramatic force or general effectiveness of the story. Interpolate or delete incidents at will—never being bound by the original conception even if the ultimate result be a tale wholly different from that first planned. Let additions and alterations be made whenever suggested by anything in the formulating process.

(3) Write out the story—rapidly, fluently, and not too critically — following the second or narrative-order synopsis. Change incidents and plot whenever the developing process seems to suggest such change, never being bound by any previous design. If the development suddenly reveals new opportunities for dramatic effect or vivid storytelling, add whatever is thought advantageous—going back and reconciling the early parts to the new plan. Insert and delete whole sections if necessary or desirable, trying different beginnings and endings until the best arrangement is found. But be sure that all references throughout the story are thoroughly reconciled with the final design. Remove all possible superfluities—words, sentences, paragraphs, or whole episodes or elements—observing the usual precautions about the reconciling of all references.

(4) Revise the entire text, paying attention to vocabulary, syntax, rhythm of prose, proportioning of parts, niceties of tone, grace and convincingness or transitions (scene to scene, slow and detailed action to rapid and sketchy time-covering action and vice versa. . . . etc., etc., etc.), effectiveness of beginning, ending, climaxes, etc., dramatic suspense and interest, plausibility and atmosphere, and various other elements.

(5) Prepare a neatly typed copy—not hesitating to add final revisory touches where they seem in order.

The first of these stages is often purely a mental one—a set of conditions and happenings being worked out in my head, and never set down until I am ready to prepare a detailed synopsis of events in order of narration. Then, too, I sometimes begin even the actual writing before I know how I shall develop the idea—this beginning forming a problem to be motivated and exploited.

There are, I think, four distinct types of weird story; one expressing a mood or feeling, another expressing a pictorial conception, a third expressing a general situation, condition, legend, or intellectual conception, and a fourth explaining a definite tableau or specific dramatic situation or climax. In another way, weird tales may be grouped into two rough categories—those in which the marvel or horror concerns some condition or phenomenon, and those in which it concerns some action of persons in connexion with a bizarre condition or phenomenon.

Each weird story—to speak more particularly of the horror type—seems to involve five definite elements: (a) some basic, underlying horror or abnormality—condition, entity, etc.—, (b) the general effects or bearings of the horror, (c) the mode of manifestation—object embodying the horror and phenomena observed—, (d) the types of fear-reaction pertaining to the horror, and (e) the specific effects of the horror in relation to the given set of conditions.

In writing a weird story I always try very carefully to achieve the right mood and atmosphere, and place the emphasis where it belongs. One cannot, except in immature pulp charlatan–fiction, present an account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions. Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to overcome, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel. This marvel must be treated very impressively and deliberately — with a careful emotional “build-up” — else it will seem flat and unconvincing. Being the principal thing in the story, its mere existence should overshadow the characters and events. But the characters and events must be consistent and natural except where they touch the single marvel. In relation to the central wonder, the characters should shew the same overwhelming emotion which similar characters would shew toward such a wonder in real life. Never have a wonder taken for granted. Even when the characters are supposed to be accustomed to the wonder I try to weave an air of awe and impressiveness corresponding to what the reader should feel. A casual style ruins any serious fantasy.

Atmosphere, not action, is the great desideratum of weird fiction. Indeed, all that a wonder story can ever be is a vivid picture of a certain type of human mood. The moment it tries to be anything else it becomes cheap, puerile, and unconvincing. Prime emphasis should be given to subtle suggestion—imperceptible hints and touches of selective associative detail which express shadings of moods and build up a vague illusion of the strange reality of the unreal. Avoid bald catalogues of incredible happenings which can have no substance or meaning apart from a sustaining cloud of colour and symbolism.

These are the rules or standards which I have followed — consciously or unconsciously — ever since I first attempted the serious writing of fantasy. That my results are successful may well be disputed — but I feel at least sure that, had I ignored the considerations mentioned in the last few paragraphs, they would have been much worse than they are.

Source: http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/essays/nwwf.aspx

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