Autodidact: self-taught


Fantomas Spider Baby

by V. L. Craven

Screams and moans and bats and bones
Teenage monsters in haunted homes
The ghosts on the stair
The vampires bite
Better beware, there’s a full moon tonight

Fantômas. Spider Baby. The directors cut. 2001.


Baudelaire Was a Rather Intense Fellow

by V. L. Craven

Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821-1867) French poet most well-known for Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) and the first person to translate Edgar Allan Poe’s work into French.

An aesthete and dandy, he believed (and practised) in the pleasures of the senses. This led him to possibly contract syphilis and gonorrhea. Oh well.

Like Virginia Woolf, he believed art should capture the small, ephemeral moments of life. Unlike Woolf, he was of an impressively cynical mindset and loved him some irony. Though a cynic, he also believed people were fundamentally good. (A view he and I share. They may seem to be diametrically opposed, but, though the world seems harsh and awful, we also believe that it can be better–that man has the capacity to improve and to rise above.)

Similarly to holding seemingly contradictory worldviews, The Flowers of Evil is both grotesque and beautiful with several poems focusing on the putrefaction of the physical body after death whilst carrying on to wax lyrical on the beauty of life. This could be stomach-churning to the faint of disposition, but makes sense in that one can’t fully appreciate life if one isn’t intensely aware of death.

The juxtaposition of death and living life vigorously–and lending a poetic beauty to both–is echoed in Nine Inch Nails lyrics. Reznor’s words can be nauseating but simultaneously truthful and evocative and can express both disgust and a deep affection for a woman, much like Baudelaire. Both have also been reviled by the masses as being immoral and disgusting, but celebrated by those aware of the true nature of existence.

When initially published, Les Fleurs du Mal was receiving well amongst the literary set though several poems were removed prior to publication being deemed obscene (including one about lesbianism). However, most of his work was published after his death.

My favourite thing about Baudelaire is that, when acquainted with Poe’s stories, he felt Poe was expressing thoughts in his own mind that had not fully formed. That feeling of intellectual companionship is something readers most look for, I think. We read to find people of our own views and whims, but who more beautifully articulate those views and whims. We read to find friends without regard to nationality or age. And I’m glad to have found a friend in good old Baudey.


Baudelaire–A Fantastic Engraving

by V. L. Craven

This strange, gaunt spectre nothing wears at all
Save, on his head, a crown of Carnival,
Grotesquely perched upon his naked skull.
Without or whip or spur (its nostrils full
Of dribbling foam) he urges on its course
His ghastly, grim, Apocalyptic horse,
And horse and rider, through a space as wide
As is Infinity, tumultuous ride.

And while his mount treads down a nameless horde.
The spectral rider shakes his flaming sword
Over the mighty, royal realm that is
His broad estate—one vast necropolis,
Where sleep, beneath the cold sun’s joyless eye,
All the inhabitants of History.

Translated by James Laver


Neruda’s “Ode and Germinations”

by V. L. Craven

“We have traveled over each other lip to lip,
we have exchanged a thousand times
between us death and life,
all that we brought with us
like dead medals
we throw into the depths of the sea,
all that we learned
was of no use to us:
we begin all over again,
we end all over again
death and life.”

Pablo Neruda


“Spellbound” by Emily Bronte

by V. L. Craven

The night is darkening around me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me
And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed snow.
And the storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.


“The Second Coming” by WB Yeats

by V. L. Craven

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


“Lullaby” by WH Auden

by V. L. Craven

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s carnal ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find our mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

January 1937


“Dubious” by Vikram Seth

by V. L. Craven

Some men like Jack and some like Jill
I’m glad I like them both but still
I wonder if this freewheeling
Really is an enlightened thing,
Or is its greater scope a sign
Of deviance from some party line?
In the strict ranks of Gay and Straight
What is my status: Stray? Or Great?


Shelley: “Ozymandias”

by V. L. Craven

This is one of my all-time favourite poems–I don’t know why I didn’t choose it straightaway.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

I do wonder why Shelley chose to have the poem being told from the point of view of another person rather than just having the narrator tell us, but I love the depiction of the sands stretching out for eternity and the legs, representing man’s hubris, there as a monument.


Wordsworth “Its Enclosure”

by V. L. Craven

I particularly like what Wordsworth is saying about the freedom of having constraints–you know exactly what is expected and needed.

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.


Baudelaire ‘The Owls’

by V. L. Craven

This week’s poem for memorization is Baudelaire’s “The Owls” translated by Edna St Vincent Millay

The owls that roost in the black yew
Along one limb in solemn state,
And with a red eye look you through,
Are eastern gods; they meditate.

No feather stirs on them, not one,
Until that melancholy hour
When night, supplanting the weak sun,
Resumes her interrupted power.

Their attitude instructs the wise
To shun all action, all surprise.
Suppose there passed a lovely face, —

Who even longs to follow it,
Must feel for ever the disgrace
Of having all but moved a bit.

Looking over my previous selections I see that I tend toward the darker in theme and vision. Boy, what one’s taste in poetry reveals.

I began memorizing a poem a week in order to keep my mind active but I’ve found it also useful to help me sleep at night–I repeat the poems I know and that helps quiet my, at times, hectic night-time thoughts.


Longfellow’s “Mezzo Cammin”

by V. L. Craven

This week’s poem is Longfellow’s Mezzo Cammin

Half of my life is gone, and I have let
The years slip from me and have not fulfilled
The aspiration of my youth, to build
Some tower of song with lofty parapet.
Not indolence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
Of restless passions that would not be stilled,
But sorrow, and a care that almost killed,
Kept me from what I may accomplish yet;
Though, half-way up the hill, I see the Past
Lying beneath me with its sounds and sights, —
A city in the twilight dim and vast,
With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights, —
And hear above me on the autumnal blast
The cataract of Death far thundering from the heights.

[The title means “midway through the journey” and comes from the first line of Dante’s Divine Comedy : “Nel mezzo delcammin di nostra vita.” Longfellow was 35 when he wrote this poem, halfway through the scriptural lifespan of 70 years.]


Longfellow’s “Night”

by V. L. Craven

Having successfully memorised “The Cross of Snow” I’ve chosen another Longfellow sonnet for my second poem-of-the-week.

Into the darkness and the hush of night
-Slowly the landscape sinks, and fades away,
-And with it fade the phantoms of the day,
-The ghosts of men and things, that haunt the light.
The crowd, the clamour, the pursuit, the flight,
-The unprofitable splendour and display,
-The agitations, and the cares that prey
-Upon our hearts, all vanish out of sight.
The better life begins; the world no more
-Molests us; all its records we erase.
-From the dull common-place book of our lives.
That like a palimpsest is written o’er
-With trivial incidents of time and place,
-And lo! the ideal, hidden beneath, revives.

palimpsest : A piece of parchment or papyrus that has been written on, nearly completely erased and written on again

The imagery of the day’s cares sinking away simultaneously with the landscape is particularly appealing to me. I also enjoy the phrases, ‘the better life’ and ‘the ideal, hidden beneath’, which, to my mind, means your truest self–the self you are when not trying to be who we’re expected to be during the day with colleagues and the general public.


Longfellow’s “The Cross of Snow”

by V. L. Craven

Memorizing a poem a week and doing crosswords are two ways to keep your mind active. I’m rubbish at crosswords but I enjoy poetry. This week’s is Longfellow’s The Cross of Snow.

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face–the face of one long dead–
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow on its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

I know this one is a bit bleak, but the imagery is so vivid–the language so evocative, that I couldn’t resist.

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