Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

Thomas’s poetic telling of his childhood memories of Christmas in early twentieth-century Wales is one of the classics of the literature. Dylan Thomas’s writing, here, though not really a poem in form, is infused with the same vivid, sensory imagery that makes him one of my favorite poets.  For instance, near the beginning of the book, he captures a quintessential boyhood experience.

Thomas leaves no sense unfurled here, and while some might dismiss his work as nostalgic sentimentality, the beauty and wonder of his depiction of a Christmas celebration that is not overshadowed by consumerism stirs up a storm of possibilities in the imagination. May all of our Christmas celebrations this year be full of the frivolity and child-like joy that Thomas poignantly recalls here.

Like his poetry, 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' does not have a narrative structure but contains several descriptive passages designed to create an emotive sense of nostalgia. The story is told from the viewpoint of the author recounting a festive season as a young boy in a fictionalised autobiographical style. In the first passage Thomas searches for a nostalgic Western belief in Christmas past with the line, It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. He furthers the idyllic memory of childhood past by describing the snow as being better and more exciting than the snow that is experienced as an adult. The prose is comedic with exaggerated characters, used either for comedic effect or to show how childhood memories are enlarged due to youthful interpretation.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Luttrell Psalter

The Luttrell Psalter is one of the most famous medieval manuscripts because of its rich illustrations of everyday life in the 14th century. It was made in the diocese of Lincoln for Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (1276 - 1345) of Irnham, probably sometime between 1325 and 1335. 

The manuscript is named by modern scholars after its original patron, whose picture appears in the book. Geoffrey Luttrell was lord of the manor at Irnham, between Grantham and Spalding in Lincolnshire, but he owned estates across England, thanks to his great-great-grandfather, also called Geoffrey. His ancestor's loyal support and service to King John had been rewarded with grants of various properties, which were greatly added to by marriage to an heiress. The style of the illumination shows that Sir Geoffrey commissioned the Psalter some time between 1320 and 1340.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Poetry: The Emperor of Ice-Cream by Wallace Stevens

Stevens was a seeming contradiction: an insurance executive who was also one of the most challenging poets of his time. Central to his work is a faith in the redemptive power of the imagination, as well as the conviction that ultimately "Poetry is the subject of the poem".

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
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