Autumn Day

This Summer, I came across some of Rilke’s poetry. I’d been looking for poems to set to music. I’ve been getting up early most days for the last few weeks and it has often been the case that the first few hours after dawn have been the best part of the day. The further August has progressed, the later and later sunrise -and, consequently, breakfast- has become and the more I’ve found myself coming back to this one. It’s the shadow on the sundial that does it for me. I can just about ask the way to a railway station in German but that’s all – I’m lost without a parallel translation. I’ve provided one that I hope conveys the gist of the poem below it:


Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiel den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her

Rainer Maria Rilke

Autumn Day

Lord: it is time. The summer was stupendous.
Let your shadow fall across the sundials,
and let the wind blow on the meadows!

Let the last fruits ripen to the full;
give them another two more southerly days
urge them on to fulfillment and drive
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who has no house now, will not build.
Who is alone now, will remain so for a long time,
watching, reading, writing long letters
and wandering the avenues restlessly,
to and fro, while the leaves are blowing.


Sentimental Landscapes

We’ve just spent an interesting afternoon visiting an exhibition at Shandy Hall, the former home of Laurence Sterne, writer of Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.

Entitled Sentimental Landscapes, it explores the world of 19th century “endless landscapes” or myriorama. Long, oblong panoramic landscapes are sliced vertically into rectangular segments. The picture is cleverly drawn so that the segments  can be rearranged in any order. There are often millions of possible rearrangements of a myriorama.

As part of the exhibition, Guardian cartoonist Tom Gauld has been commissioned to create a modern example, in the spirit of Laurence Sterne. One can play at rearranging parts of it online.

Three things strike me. Firstly, it turns out to be far more intriguing to play with a “real” cardboard myriorama than to play with one online, fun though that is. The cardboard versions have an uncanny quality. They remind me of tarot cards and of the glossy, coloured prints in old history books. Secondly, I’m struck by the similarities between the interactive nature of myriorama and modern computer games – probably because, only yesterday, one of my sons demonstrated to me the workings of The Stanley Parable. Finally, even though one would expect it to be the case, one cannot help but be struck with the way the pictures reflect the preoccupations of the times they were made: picturesque scenes featuring hills woods, lakes and -of course- ruins as one might imagine them to be on the continent. An internet image search throws up numerous examples.

After I’d first written this post, I went and practised the Haydn piano sonata I blogged about the other week. A minute or two into my playing it struck me how a young woman -most likely a woman- living one hundred and eighty years ago might have spent a Wednesday involved in the self-same pursuits.


On a completely different note, I recently spent a very happy ten minutes watching this. As the person who drew my attention to it said, it makes a change from the old British film of the famous Auden poem, Night Mail, good though that is.

To Hell in a Wheelbarrow

I’ve been watching M*A*S*H on freeview TV for months now. Brilliant. As a thought-experiment I tried to imagine a similar programme, made now, set in a military A&E somewhere in Afghanistan, for argument’s sake, or Iraq. It would star surgeons who were anti-war, critical of their country’s politicians and the military. One surgeon, more conservative, would be the butt of their jokes. A male nurse would pretend to be a transvestite to try and get thrown out of the army.

It just wouldn’t happen. Too controversial. Too political. Too unpatriotic. Too disrespectful. Too expensive.

And, the executives would ask, who would want to watch it when they could be watching ballroom dancing, baking or celebrity gardeners digging up other people’s gardens?

Making Music

I’ve spent a few hours this month practising this Haydn piano sonata. It’s really taken me back. I remember my mother practising it when I was about ten or eleven. I only thought about this when I started working on it but I think the fact that she played the piano a lot had a lot to do with me growing up with a passion for classical music.  It’s obvious, really. I, her captive audience, heard her favourite pieces played often and got to know them. This was music without lyrics (although there was that, too, mostly from the National Songbook), music made of memorable ideas rather than melodies.

It is a commonplace to say of literacy, that if you want your children to enjoy reading books, enjoy reading books with them. If my experience of childhood is anything to go on, then, the same thing goes for music. When I mention to people that I’m a musician they often tell me that they “used to play” the clarinet, the violin or whatever. (I sympathize: I made very little music for over a decade. Other things seemed more important). Others tell me they would “like to” learn an instrument.  If all those people got learning or dusted down their old instruments and got playing them again (at whatever level) they would be doing the next generation a great favour. Just as with reading books, if making music is something adults make time for and do, it’s something children will want to do too.

Tell Tchaikovsky the News

If you invent anything you never know where it will end. It could be anything from some all-consuming masterwork to nothing more than whistling a tune you don’t remember anyone whistling before. Images, texts, pieces of music percolate through culture and history in the most amazing ways. It must be one of the great joys of creativity.

Beethoven (and Tchaikovsky for that matter) could have had no idea:

Did Leonardo know what Marcel Duchamp surmised?

Could Shakespeare guess that the Montagues and Capulets would morph into the Jets and the Sharks?

Grant Wood could never have known his painting would “go viral”. And could his sister and dentist (yes, his dentist, apparently) have had any idea what they were letting themselves in for?

Man and woman with stern expession stand side-by-side. The man holds a pitch fork.

Thanks are due to the Poet in Residence for inspiring this post.

Reading Matters

Looking through my blog’s admin pages I see that I’ve written several posts in the last few months – but always left them unpublished. Reading through them, I can see why I was unhappy with each one – but I’m curious as to how this state of affairs has come about. I’m reminded of a condition said to affect darts players. You pick up a dart, aim it at the board, you flick your wrist but, when the moment comes to let go your fingers just won’t do it.

Another reason for the inactivity is that I’ve simply spent time doing other things, one of the more pleasant of which has been reading more books. Two stand out in my mind: Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks and Roger Deakin’s Wildwood.

I’m not sure what to make of “new nature writing”. Part of me shrugs, and thinks, aren’t these just books that might otherwise have been slightly anodyne (if environmentally edgy) TV documentaries? Am I just reading about humankind tearing the planet apart the way, when I was a kid, one could turn on BBC2 and watch lions tearing up wildebeest? Entertainment with it’s consciousness raised is still just entertainment. Another part of me is drawn in, impressed by writing that makes anyone who reads it more aware of the world around them. Who can fail to be disturbed, for example, by Robert Macfarlane’s comparison (in Landmarks) of Victorian London’s edgelands with their plethora of wildlife with the situation nearly two hundred years later? He quotes the Victorian nature-writer Richard Jeffries, who paints a picture of a world burgeoning with wildflowers, birds and animals that seems chillingly unfamiliar to anyone living in similar settings today.

I found myself thinking of this passage when I went for a walk over the hill in front of our house yesterday with my daughter. You get a great view over the dale from there. I found myself, as a thought experiment,  making an imaginary film of that view that started 10,000 years ago and which ran right up to the present day. If the film could be speeded up to last, say, two minutes, would the final frame seem quite so idyllic as it looked as we stood there? Or would it appear as a wasted shadow of what it once was?


A short poem – from one of those posts I mentioned at the start that I never got round to posting:


In Summer you can just make out the course of the track
through the long grass. In Winter it’s far simpler:
a brown line winds across the field.

Many people must pass this way
(enough, at least, to wear it down)
but, when I walk it, I rarely meet anyone.

Finally, a couple of photos. I dressed the scarecrow in some of my old clothes. When I reflected how scruffy he looked I was disturbed by the thought that I’d worn the outfit myself not so long ago: