Home/Prufrock/Keats in Quarantine, Jane Kenyon’s Seasons, and the Belle Époque in the Eyes of a Ten-Year-Old

Keats in Quarantine, Jane Kenyon’s Seasons, and the Belle Époque in the Eyes of a Ten-Year-Old

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Good morning. Frances Mayes writes about reading Keats in quarantine: “In October of 1820, typhus raged in Naples. With his artist friend, Joseph Severn, the British poet John Keats rocked in the city’s harbor for 10 days . . . Keats, almost 25, only had four more months to live and he already felt himself ‘insubstantial, as though My whole existence is already posthumous.’ He invented puns; he read Byron. He was annoyed by a woman passenger, a fellow consumptive. Then he set down the events of his life in order to make sense of it. The document is a painful read. He had, of course, no way to know that, to far-distant readers like me, his life story would be triumphant, too.”

Book sales surge: “Paperback fiction sales rose by 35% last week, with a notable interest in challenging classics.”

Averill Curdy reviews a new volume of Jane Kenyon’s selected poetry: “This small volume of selected poems by Jane Kenyon, in its battered, padded mailer, arrived looking like it had been lost, trampled in a snowbank, and chewed by a dog before landing at the right address. Then the book sat on my sofa table. ‘What are you going to make of this,’ a friend asked, declaiming a few lines with all the tension of an old clothesline. And it’s true. I knew what Kenyon’s poems were like, knew that they were part of that plain-style free-verse tradition of the personal lyric that has dominated American poetry in the last fifty years and put me to sleep for twenty. My attitude was not unlike that of Sir Joshua Reynolds towards the masterpieces of Dutch painting. While traveling through Holland to look at paintings by Vermeer, Cuyp, and others, the English Grand Manner painter wrote condescendingly of their art as repetitive, dull, and “barren of entertainment” because of its lack of narrative and ‘poetical’ quality, and because of its seemingly narrow focus on Dutch life—Dutch food and drink, Dutch landscape, Dutch interiors of Dutch households of Dutch rich and Dutch poor. With so many poets of the past and present to read and re-read, I’d never felt the need to engage with Kenyon’s poetry on its own terms. The project of a book such as this one—the best work distilled like an attar from the collected poems of a beloved poet who died twenty-five years ago from leukemia, prematurely at the age of forty-seven—seems almost old-fashioned in this rambunctious time when the arts of branding and self-promotion sometime take precedence over other, quieter arts. The seventy-four poems in the book are arranged chronologically. The selections were made by Kenyon’s husband, the poet Donald Hall, before his own death in June 2018, as a final act of love for his wife, one imagines, and as a final favor to readers, including those like me who might require only the invitation to arrive at the right moment in order to enter.”

Bohumil Hrabal’s early prose: “Hrabal is having a moment in English. Already one of the most internationally recognized Czech writers (perhaps only Milan Kundera and Ivan Klíma have been more widely translated), Hrabal has appeared in several new English versions in the last two years, including The Tender Barbarian (translated by Jed Slast, 2019), Why I Write? (translated by David Short, 2019), and Murder Ballads and Other Legends (translated by Timothy West, 2018). Taken together, these books show the development of Hrabal’s famously rollicking prose style, striking imagination, and flawless ear for dialogue. They also reveal some of his strategies for remaining true to art and expression under an oppressive regime.”

The Belle Époque through the eyes of a ten-year-old: “For the ten-year-old Jacques Henri Lartigue, even taking a bath was a photo opportunity. In fin-de-siècle France, this wealthy, curious and wide-eyed boy took his camera everywhere from the beaches of Biarritz to the slopes of St Moritz. He took it to car rallies, ice rinks, aerodromes and ski jumps. And, in 1904, he set his camera on a board across his bathtub, set the aperture and focus and took a self portrait, his little face emerging out of the water like a frog. His mother released the shutter. Louise Baring’s new book, Lartigue: The Boy and the Belle Époque, details a golden age as seen through the lens of an unusual photographer. Young Jacques captured the dawn of the 20th century as a time of japes and escapades and the innocent pursuit of the new. But for more than half a century this joyous body of work languished in a bundle of family albums. His story is one of privilege and obscurity, of a buried vision and a late resurrection.”


Essay of the Day:

In The Hudson Review, Elizabeth Lyon provides a wonderful survey (with plenty of links) of musical performances that have been streamed so far during the coronavirus pandemic:

“As city after city, state after state, country after country, has begun to implement restrictions on public gatherings due to public safety concerns amidst the COVID-19 crisis, performances, when not canceled outright, have moved en masse to livestreaming platforms. Globally, orchestras still performing are offering free concerts to empty theater seats and thousands of online auditors. Just this past weekend, one could tune in to Bach’s St. John Passion, performed by the Bach Collegium Japan under Masaaki Suzuki, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and the Finnish Radio Symphony, to name just a few. The Met has closed up shop but is offering free nightly HD reruns (although when I tried to log on, the website was so popular that I had virtually to queue, being 28,081 in line) and presenters such as the 92Y and Chamber Music of Lincoln Center are streaming chamber music. And then there’s social media. On March 15, Joyce DiDonato and Piotr Beczala, accompanied by harpist Emmanuel Ceysson and pianist Howard Watkins, streamed excerpts of Massanet’s opera, Werther, which had been scheduled to open at the Met on March 16. Filmed with an iPhone from DiDonato’s living room, as of 1:53 p.m. on March 16, the performance had 244K views, one thousand more views than five minutes before.”

Read the rest.

Photo:The ruins of Gleno Dam

Poems: Richard Crashaw, “Three Epigrams” (translated by John Talbot)

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University. Follow him on Twitter.

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