Archive for April, 2012

Anita O' Day (October 18, 1919 – November 23, 2006)
























Don’t Be That Way
































Just One of Those Things
















Let’s Face the Music and Dance














































On the Street of Dreams
















What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life














Exactly Like You
















Stompin’ at the Savoy
















Body and Soul





















When Sunny Gets Blue
















Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
















Falling in Love With Love















It Had to Be You














I Won’t Dance
















Gone With the Wind
















There Will Never Be Another You















There’s a Lull in my Life
















Angel Eyes
















The Getaway and the Chase













We Laughed at Love
































Love Me or Leave Me














You and the Night and the Music





















My first encounter with Anita O’ Day’s amazing music was sometime in the Summer of ’77. I remember I used to  listen to a radio program called Just Jazz in Tucson Arizona, and I was absolutely stunned to hear the last two last tracks on this post – “Love me or Leave Me” and “You and The Night and The Music” – O’ Day with the late great Oscar Peterson.

I still consider these two flawless gems to be masterpieces. O’ Day absolutely nails the mood of both songs with her sultry voice almost breathless delivery.  Her always excellent sense of timing is absolutely perfect.

Lines that could so easily be choppy are phrased with nothing short of inspiration, and Oscar Peterson’s piano accompaniment fits in perfectly.

It seldom gets better than this.





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Hector Hugh Munro (18 December 1870 – 13 November 1916)


















It was a chill, rain-washed afternoon of a late August day, that indefinite season when partridges are still in security or cold storage, and there is nothing to hunt—unless one is bounded on the north by the Bristol Channel, in which case one may lawfully gallop after fat red stags. Lady Blemley’s house-party was not bounded on the north by the Bristol Channel, hence there was a full gathering of her guests round the tea-table on this particular afternoon. And, in spite of the blankness of the season and the triteness of the occasion, there was no trace in the company of that fatigued restlessness which means a dread of the pianola and a subdued hankering for auction bridge. The undisguised open-mouthed attention of the entire party was fixed on the homely negative personality of Mr. Cornelius Appin. Of all her guests, he was the one who had come to Lady Blemley with the vaguest reputation. Some one had said he was “clever,” and he had got his invitation in the moderate expectation, on the part of his hostess, that some portion at least of his cleverness would be contributed to the general entertainment. Until tea-time that day she had been unable to discover in what direction, if any, his cleverness lay. He was neither a wit nor a croquet champion, a hypnotic force nor a begetter of amateur theatricals. Neither did his exterior suggest the sort of man in whom women are willing to pardon a generous measure of mental deficiency. He had subsided into mere Mr. Appin, and the Cornelius seemed a piece of transparent baptismal bluff. And now he was claiming to have launched on the world a discovery beside which the invention of gunpowder, of the printing-press, and of steam locomotion were inconsiderable trifles. Science had made bewildering strides in many directions during recent decades, but this thing seemed to belong to the domain of miracle rather than to scientific achievement.

“And do you really ask us to believe,” Sir Wilfrid was saying, “that you have discovered a means for instructing animals in the art of human speech, and that dear old Tobermory has proved your first successful pupil?”

“It is a problem at which I have worked for the last seventeen years,” said Mr. Appin, “but only during the last eight or nine months have I been rewarded with glimmerings of success. Of course I have experimented with thousands of animals, but latterly only with cats, those wonderful creatures which have assimilated themselves so marvellously with our civilization while retaining all their highly developed feral instincts. Here and there among cats one comes across an outstanding superior intellect, just as one does among the ruck of human beings, and when I made the acquaintance of Tobermory a week ago I saw at once that I was in contact with a “Beyond-cat” of extraordinary intelligence. I had gone far along the road to success in recent experiments; with Tobermory, as you call him, I have reached the goal.”

Mr. Appin concluded his remarkable statement in a voice which he strove to divest of a triumphant inflection. No one said “Rats,” though Clovis’s lips moved in a monosyllabic contortion, which probably invoked those rodents of disbelief.

“And do you mean to say,” asked Miss Resker, after a slight pause, “that you have taught Tobermory to say and understand easy sentences of one syllable?”

“My dear Miss Resker,” said the wonder-worker patiently, “one teaches little children and savages and backward adults in that piecemeal fashion; when one has once solved the problem of making a beginning with an animal of highly developed intelligence one has no need for those halting methods. Tobermory can speak our language with perfect correctness.”

This time Clovis very distinctly said, “Beyond-rats!” Sir Wilfred was more polite but equally sceptical.

“Hadn’t we better have the cat in and judge for ourselves?” suggested Lady Blemley.

Sir Wilfred went in search of the animal, and the company settled themselves down to the languid expectation of witnessing some more or less adroit drawing-room ventriloquism.

In a minute Sir Wilfred was back in the room, his face white beneath its tan and his eyes dilated with excitement.

“By Gad, it’s true!”

His agitation was unmistakably genuine, and his hearers started forward in a thrill of wakened interest.

Collapsing into an armchair he continued breathlessly:

“I found him dozing in the smoking-room, and called out to him to come for his tea. He blinked at me in his usual way, and I said, ‘Come on, Toby; don’t keep us waiting’ and, by Gad! he drawled out in a most horribly natural voice that he’d come when he dashed well pleased! I nearly jumped out of my skin!”

Appin had preached to absolutely incredulous hearers; Sir Wilfred’s statement carried instant conviction. A Babel-like chorus of startled exclamation arose, amid which the scientist sat mutely enjoying the first fruit of his stupendous discovery.

In the midst of the clamour Tobermory entered the room and made his way with velvet tread and studied unconcern across the group seated round the tea-table.

A sudden hush of awkwardness and constraint fell on the company. Somehow there seemed an element of embarrassment in addressing on equal terms a domestic cat of acknowledged dental ability.

“Will you have some milk, Tobermory?” asked Lady Blemley in a rather strained voice.

“I don’t mind if I do,” was the response, couched in a tone of even indifference. A shiver of suppressed excitement went through the listeners, and Lady Blemley might be excused for pouring out the saucerful of milk rather unsteadily.

“I’m afraid I’ve spilt a good deal of it,” she said apologetically.

“After all, it’s not my Axminster,” was Tobermory’s rejoinder.

Another silence fell on the group, and then Miss Resker, in her best district-visitor manner, asked if the human language had been difficult to learn. Tobermory looked squarely at her for a moment and then fixed his gaze serenely on the middle distance. It was obvious that boring questions lay outside his scheme of life.

“What do you think of human intelligence?” asked Mavis Pellington lamely.

“Of whose intelligence in particular?” asked Tobermory coldly.

“Oh, well, mine for instance,” said Mavis with a feeble laugh.

“You put me in an embarrassing position,” said Tobermory, whose tone and attitude certainly did not suggest a shred of embarrassment. “When your inclusion in this house-party was suggested Sir Wilfrid protested that you were the most brainless woman of his acquaintance, and that there was a wide distinction between hospitality and the care of the feeble-minded. Lady Blemley replied that your lack of brain-power was the precise quality which had earned you your invitation, as you were the only person she could think of who might be idiotic enough to buy their old car. You know, the one they call ‘The Envy of Sisyphus,’ because it goes quite nicely up-hill if you push it.”

Lady Blemley’s protestations would have had greater effect if she had not casually suggested to Mavis only that morning that the car in question would be just the thing for her down at her Devonshire home.

Major Barfield plunged in heavily to effect a diversion.

“How about your carryings-on with the tortoise-shell puss up at the stables, eh?”

The moment he had said it every one realized the blunder.

“One does not usually discuss these matters in public,” said Tobermory frigidly. “From a slight observation of your ways since you’ve been in this house I should imagine you’d find it inconvenient if I were to shift the conversation to your own little affairs.”

The panic which ensued was not confined to the Major.

“Would you like to go and see if cook has got your dinner ready?” suggested Lady Blemley hurriedly, affecting to ignore the fact that it wanted at least two hours to Tobermory’s dinner-time.

“Thanks,” said Tobermory, “not quite so soon after my tea. I don’t want to die of indigestion.”

“Cats have nine lives, you know,” said Sir Wilfred heartily.

“Possibly,” answered Tobermory; “but only one liver.”

“Adelaide!” said Mrs. Cornett, “do you mean to encourage that cat to go out and gossip about us in the servants’ hall?”

The panic had indeed become general. A narrow ornamental balustrade ran in front of most of the bedroom windows at the Towers, and it was recalled with dismay that this had formed a favourite promenade for Tobermory at all hours, whence he could watch the pigeons—and heaven knew what else besides. If he intended to become reminiscent in his present outspoken strain the effect would be something more than disconcerting. Mrs. Cornett, who spent much time at her toilet table, and whose complexion was reputed to be of a nomadic though punctual disposition, looked as ill at ease as the Major. Miss Scrawen, who wrote fiercely sensuous poetry and led a blameless life, merely displayed irritation; if you are methodical and virtuous in private you don’t necessarily want everyone to know it. Bertie van Tahn, who was so depraved at 17 that he had long ago given up trying to be any worse, turned a dull shade of gardenia white, but he did not commit the error of dashing out of the room like Odo Finsberry, a young gentleman who was understood to be reading for the Church and who was possibly disturbed at the thought of scandals he might hear concerning other people. Clovis had the presence of mind to maintain a composed exterior; privately he was calculating how long it would take to procure a box of fancy mice through the agency of the Exchange and Mart as a species of hush-money.

Even in a delicate situation like the present, Agnes Resker could not endure to remain long in the background.

“Why did I ever come down here?” she asked dramatically.

Tobermory immediately accepted the opening.

“Judging by what you said to Mrs. Cornett on the croquet-lawn yesterday, you were out of food. You described the Blemleys as the dullest people to stay with that you knew, but said they were clever enough to employ a first-rate cook; otherwise they’d find it difficult to get any one to come down a second time.”

“There’s not a word of truth in it! I appeal to Mrs. Cornett—” exclaimed the discomfited Agnes.

“Mrs. Cornett repeated your remark afterwards to Bertie van Tahn,” continued Tobermory, “and said, ‘That woman is a regular Hunger Marcher; she’d go anywhere for four square meals a day,’ and Bertie van Tahn said—”

At this point the chronicle mercifully ceased. Tobermory had caught a glimpse of the big yellow tom from the Rectory working his way through the shrubbery towards the stable wing. In a flash he had vanished through the open French window.

With the disappearance of his too brilliant pupil Cornelius Appin found himself beset by a hurricane of bitter upbraiding, anxious inquiry, and frightened entreaty. The responsibility for the situation lay with him, and he must prevent matters from becoming worse. Could Tobermory impart his dangerous gift to other cats? was the first question he had to answer. It was possible, he replied, that he might have initiated his intimate friend the stable puss into his new accomplishment, but it was unlikely that his teaching could have taken a wider range as yet.

“Then,” said Mrs. Cornett, “Tobermory may be a valuable cat and a great pet; but I’m sure you’ll agree, Adelaide, that both he and the stable cat must be done away with without delay.”

“You don’t suppose I’ve enjoyed the last quarter of an hour, do you?” said Lady Blemley bitterly. “My husband and I are very fond of Tobermory—at least, we were before this horrible accomplishment was infused into him; but now, of course, the only thing is to have him destroyed as soon as possible.”

“We can put some strychnine in the scraps he always gets at dinner-time,” said Sir Wilfred, “and I will go and drown the stable cat myself. The coachman will be very sore at losing his pet, but I’ll say a very catching form of mange has broken out in both cats and we’re afraid of it spreading to the kennels.”

“But my great discovery!” expostulated Mr. Appin; “after all my years of research and experiment—”

“You can go and experiment on the short-horns at the farm, who are under proper control,” said Mrs. Cornett, “or the elephants at the Zoological Gardens. They’re said to be highly intelligent, and they have this recommendation, that they don’t come creeping about our bedrooms and under chairs, and so forth.”

An archangel ecstatically proclaiming the Millennium, and then finding that it clashed unpardonably with Henley and would have to be indefinitely postponed, could hardly have felt more crestfallen than Cornelius Appin at the reception of his wonderful achievement. Public opinion, however, was against him—in fact, had the general voice been consulted on the subject it is probable that a strong minority vote would have been in favour of including him in the strychnine diet.

Defective train arrangements and a nervous desire to see matters brought to a finish prevented an immediate dispersal of the party, but dinner that evening was not a social success. Sir Wilfred had had rather a trying time with the stable cat and subsequently with the coachman. Agnes Resker ostentatiously limited her repast to a morsel of dry toast, which she bit as though it were a personal enemy; while Mavis Pellington maintained a vindictive silence throughout the meal. Lady Blemley kept up a flow of what she hoped was conversation, but her attention was fixed on the doorway. A plateful of carefully dosed fish scraps was in readiness on the sideboard, but the sweets and savoury and dessert went their way, and no Tobermory appeared in the dining-room or kitchen.

The sepulchral dinner was cheerful compared with the subsequent vigil in the smoking-room. Eating and drinking had at least supplied a distraction and cloak to the prevailing embarrassment. Bridge was out of the question in the general tension of nerves and tempers, and after Odo Finsberry had given a lugubrious rendering of ‘Melisande in the Wood’ to a frigid audience, music was tacitly avoided. At eleven the servants went to bed, announcing that the small window in the pantry had been left open as usual for Tobermory’s private use. The guests read steadily through the current batch of magazines, and fell back gradually on the “Badminton Library” and bound volumes of Punch. Lady Blemley made periodic visits to the pantry, returning each time with an expression of listless depression which forestalled questioning.

At two o’clock Clovis broke the dominating silence.

“He won’t turn up tonight. He’s probably in the local newspaper office at the present moment, dictating the first installment of his reminiscences. Lady What’s-her-name’s book won’t be in it. It will be the event of the day.”

Having made this contribution to the general cheerfulness, Clovis went to bed. At long intervals the various members of the house-party followed his example.

The servants taking round the early tea made a uniform announcement in reply to a uniform question. Tobermory had not returned.

Breakfast was, if anything, a more unpleasant function than dinner had been, but before its conclusion the situation was relieved. Tobermory’s corpse was brought in from the shrubbery, where a gardener had just discovered it. From the bites on his throat and the yellow fur which coated his claws it was evident that he had fallen in unequal combat with the big Tom from the Rectory.

By midday most of the guests had quitted the Towers, and after lunch Lady Blemley had sufficiently recovered her spirits to write an extremely nasty letter to the Rectory about the loss of her valuable pet.

Tobermory had been Appin’s one successful pupil, and he was destined to have no successor. A few weeks later an elephant in the Dresden Zoological Garden, which had shown no previous signs of irritability, broke loose and killed an Englishman who had apparently been teasing it. The victim’s name was variously reported in the papers as Oppin and Eppelin, but his front name was faithfully rendered Cornelius.

“If he was trying German irregular verbs on the poor beast,” said Clovis, “he deserved all he got.









It is a challenge to discern from this story whether Mr.Munro is either an ailurophile or an ailurophobe – and that is something I find vaguely satisfying. I had the same thoughts when I read The Merchant of Venice: was Shakespeare allowing his anti Semitic bias to show, or was he making a sympathetic case for Shylock?

In my case, I have to admit I am not an admirer of the feline species. I was spoiled by a feline of very close acquaintance who came to live with me, (he found me on my 35th birthday) and who by his exemplary nature and behaviour drastically lowered my tolerance for all other cats.

This singularly superiour member of the species never fell prey any of the despicable habits  often noted in his fellow felines. He never scratched at either the furniture or people: if he slipped off a lap he never tried to save himself by extending his claws. He never objected to a bath, and often fell asleep  in a dishpan of bathwater, with his head resting on the side. He went for walks (no leash) with the dogs, went hiking and camping, rode in the car quietly and calmly, permitted the dogs all manner of liberties without a hint of ill-humour, groomed the dogs and petted them when they went to him asking for affection and attention, and never killed a bird or a mouse in his life, despite having had ample opportunity to do so.

I once rescued a pigeon with a broken leg, and left her in an upstairs room to recuperate, always remembering to close the door behind me. One day the door was left open and Fred was nowhere to be found. Entering the room with a sense of horror and trepidation, I found Fred curled up next to the pigeon and taking an afternoon nap.

This friend of mine could also be picked up in any way at all, including by his tail – something he enjoyed greatly. He could be draped around a human shoulder or neck without ever extending a single claw even if he started to fall from the heights. He never got up on the furniture without an invitation, and he used the toilet for its intended offices.

In addition to all these sovereign virtues, he customarily greeted me at the door with a clearly enunciated “hello,” always came when called, and never left his yard for any purpose whatsoever. He was a friend to all and an enemy to none, not even the mice he calmly observed presuming to eat his cat food. His favourite diversion was to chase a small twig attached to a fishing pole, and eleven years after he entered animal Valhalla I still keep this preferred toy (and others) in their accustomed places in my home. He now rests beneath a flower bed in my back yard, and every year I fancy I see some of his mortal essence re emerge in the flowers that grow there.

So I am completely unable to comprehend why humans assume a servile and inferior position in relation to felines. Unlike most dogs, most cats dislike each other on sight, and I for one take my cue from such an eminently sensible attitude. Cats. I think, despise human weakness, and the more they are deferred to, the deeper the disdain they feel. In my experience cats clearly appreciate a firm hand, disposed as they are by their feline temperaments to take kindness for weakness.

I think  Mr. Munro grasped that fact with the utmost clarity and perspicacity.

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Francesco Petrarca (July 20 1304 – July 19 1374)














Mille fïate, o dolce mia guerrera,                  
per aver co’ begli occhi vostri pace
v’aggio proferto il cor; mâ voi non piace
mirar sí basso colla mente altera.

Et se di lui fors’altra donna spera,5
vive in speranza debile et fallace:
mio, perché sdegno ciò ch’a voi dispiace,
esser non può già mai cosí com’era.

Or s’io lo scaccio, et e’ non trova in voi
ne l’exilio infelice alcun soccorso,10
né sa star sol, né gire ov’altri il chiama,

poria smarrire il suo natural corso:
che grave colpa fia d’ambeduo noi,
et tanto piú de voi, quanto piú v’ama.




A thousand times, O my warrior, my sweet,                   
That I might your beauteous eyes appease,
Gave I my heart cheap, although it failed to please
Nor turned you your lofty  mind on aught so low.
But if some other one should it await
She lives in falsity and weakened hope
For all that might displease you do I scorn
And never more could it be as it was.
Should I to disown my heart, and it not find
Help or refuge in you from sad exile,
Not know to stay alone, or turn to others’ calls,
Misplaced, and straying  from its wonted course.
For such a fault a price we both would pay,
And you the greater part, for more it loved.





Or che’l ciel e la terra e’l vento tace,                
e le fere e gli augelli il sonno affrena,
notte il carro stellato in giro mena
e nel suo letto il mar senz’onda giace;

vegghio, penso, ardo, piango; e chi mi sface
sempre m’è inanzi per mia dolce pena:
guerra è’l mio stato, d’ira et di duol piena;
et sol di lei pensando ò qualche pace.

Così sol d’una chiara fonte viva
move’l dolce e l’amaro ond’io mi pasco;
una man sola mi risana e punge.

Et perché’l mio martir non giunga a riva,
mille volte il dí moro e mille nasco;
tanto da la salute mia son lunge.



Now that the sky, the earth, and wind are quiet,     
And the wild beasts and birds are seized by sleep,
Night leads its starry chariot on its rounds,
And in its bed the waveless sea lies still.
I see, think, burn and cry, by her undone
Who always is before me, to my sweet pain.
I’m in a state of war, and anger, filled with woe,
And only thoughts of her bring any peace.
Thus from one sole clear font do live and move
The sweet and bitter, whereupon I feast.
The self-same hand both pierces and heals.
Such is my torment, the shore I cannot reach,
Die and am born a thousand times, each day –
From any chance reprieve, so far away.




Per mezz’i boschi inhospiti et selvaggi,             
onde vanno a gran rischio uomini et arme,
vo securo io, ché non pò spaventarme
altri che ‘l sol ch’à d’amor vivo i raggi;

5et vo cantando (o penser’ miei non saggi!)
lei che ‘l ciel non poria lontana farme,
ch’i’ l’ò negli occhi, et veder seco parme
donne et donzelle, et son abeti et faggi.

Parme d’udirla, udendo i rami et l’òre
10et le frondi, et gli augei lagnarsi, et l’acque
mormorando fuggir per l’erba verde.

Raro un silentio, un solitario horrore
d’ombrosa selva mai tanto mi piacque:
se non che dal mio sol troppo si perde.




Amidst unwelcoming and savage woods I go           
Secure, where armed men venture at great risk
Naught can occasion me the slightest dread
Save the sun, drawing from love its vibrant rays.
And I go singing (O my so foolish thoughts)
She from whom heaven could not outdistance me
I have within my eyes. To me they seem
As Beech and Fir, the women and girls I see.
I seem to hear her, as I hear the breeze
In branch and leaf, and the lamenting birds,
The water murmurs, slips through verdant grass.
Rare that such silence, and such lonely dread
Of shaded woods  should ever so me please,
But of the sun for me too much is lost


Translations Dia Tsung




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Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (born June 24, 1842; died sometime after December 26, 1913)




















Many years ago, on my way from Hongkong to New York, I passed a week in San Francisco. A long time had gone by since I had been in that city, during which my ventures in the Orient had prospered beyond my hope; I was rich and could afford to revisit my own country to renew my friendship with such of the companions of my youth as still lived and remembered me with the old affection. Chief of these, I hoped, was Mohun Dampier, an old schoolmate with whom I had held a desultory correspondence which had long ceased, as is the way of correspondence between men. You may have observed that the indisposition to write a merely social letter is in the ratio of the square of the distance between you and your correspondent. It is a law.

I remembered Dampier as a handsome, strong young fellow of scholarly tastes, with an aversion to work and a marked indifference to many of the things that the world cares for, including wealth, of which, however, he had inherited enough to put him beyond the reach of want. In his family, one of the oldest and most aristocratic in the country, it was, I think, a matter of pride that no member of it had ever been in trade nor politics, nor suffered any kind of distinction. Mohun was a trifle sentimental, and had in him a singular element of superstition, which led him to the study of all manner of occult subjects, although his sane mental health safeguarded him against fantastic and perilous faiths. He made daring incursions into the realm of the unreal without renouncing his residence in the partly surveyed and charted region of what we are pleased to call certitude.

The night of my visit to him was stormy. The Californian winter was on, and the incessant rain plashed in the deserted streets, or, lifted by irregular gusts of wind, was hurled against the houses with incredible fury. With no small difficulty my cabman found the right place, away out toward the ocean beach, in a sparsely populated suburb. The dwelling, a rather ugly one, apparently, stood in the center of its grounds, which as nearly as I could make out in the gloom were destitute of either flowers or grass. Three or four trees, writhing and moaning in the torment of the tempest, appeared to be trying to escape from their dismal environment and take the chance of finding a better one out at sea. The house was a two-story brick structure with a tower, a story higher, at one corner. In a window of that was the only visible light. Something in the appearance of the place made me shudder, a performance that may have been assisted by a rill of rain-water down my back as I scuttled to cover in the doorway.

In answer to my note apprising him of my wish to call, Dampier had written, “Don’t ring–open the door and come up.” I did so. The staircase was dimly lighted by a single gas-jet at the top of the second flight. I managed to reach the landing without disaster and entered by an open door into the lighted square room of the tower. Dampier came forward in gown and slippers to receive me, giving me the greeting that I wished, and if I had held a thought that it might more fitly have been accorded me at the front door the first look at him dispelled any sense of his inhospitality.

He was not the same. Hardly past middle age, he had gone gray and had acquired a pronounced stoop. His figure was thin and angular, his face deeply lined, his complexion dead-white, without a touch of color. His eyes, unnaturally large, glowed with a fire that was almost uncanny.

He seated me, proffered a cigar, and with grave and obvious sincerity assured me of the pleasure that it gave him to meet me. Some unimportant conversation followed, but all the while I was dominated by a melancholy sense of the great change in him. This he must have perceived, for he suddenly said with a bright enough smile, “You are disappointed in me–non sum qualis eram.”

I hardly knew what to reply, but managed to say: “Why, really, I don’t know: your Latin is about the same.”

He brightened again. “No,” he said, “being a dead language, it grows in appropriateness. But please have the patience to wait: where I am going there is perhaps a better tongue. Will you care to have a message in it?”

The smile faded as he spoke, and as he concluded he was looking into my eyes with a gravity that distressed me. Yet I would not surrender myself to his mood, nor permit him to see how deeply his prescience of death affected me.

“I fancy that it will be long,” I said, “before human speech will cease to serve our need; and then the need, with its possibilities of service, will have passed.”

He made no reply, and I too was silent, for the talk had taken a dispiriting turn, yet I knew not how to give it a more agreeable character. Suddenly, in a pause of the storm, when the dead silence was almost startling by contrast with the previous uproar, I heard a gentle tapping, which appeared to come from the wall behind my chair. The sound was such as might have been made by a human hand, not as upon a door by one asking admittance, but rather, I thought, as an agreed signal, an assurance of someone’s presence in an adjoining room; most of us, I fancy, have had more experience of such communications than we should care to relate. I glanced at Dampier. If possibly there was something of amusement in the look he did not observe it. He appeared to have forgotten my presence, and was staring at the wall behind me with an expression in his eyes that I am unable to name, although my memory of it is as vivid to-day as was my sense of it then. The situation was embarrassing; I rose to take my leave. At this he seemed to recover himself.

“Please be seated,” he said; “it is nothing–no one is there.”

But the tapping was repeated, and with the same gentle, slow insistence as before.

“Pardon me,” I said, “it is late. May I call to-morrow?”

He smiled–a little mechanically, I thought. “It is very delicate of you,” said he, “but quite needless. Really, this is the only room in the tower, and no one is there. At least–” He left the sentence incomplete, rose, and threw up a window, the only opening in the wall from which the sound seemed to come. “See.”

Not clearly knowing what else to do I followed him to the window and looked out. A street-lamp some little distance away gave enough light through the murk of the rain that was again falling in torrents to make it entirely plain that “no one was there.” In truth there was nothing but the sheer blank wall of the tower.

Dampier closed the window and signing me to my seat resumed his own.

The incident was not in itself particularly mysterious; any one of a dozen explanations was possible (though none has occurred to me), yet it impressed me strangely, the more, perhaps, from my friend’s effort to reassure me, which seemed to dignify it with a certain significance and importance. He had proved that no one was there, but in that fact lay all the interest; and he proffered no explanation. His silence was irritating and made me resentful.

“My good friend,” I said, somewhat ironically, I fear, “I am not disposed to question your right to harbor as many spooks as you find agreeable to your taste and consistent with your notions of companionship; that is no business of mine. But being just a plain man of affairs, mostly of this world, I find spooks needless to my peace and comfort. I am going to my hotel, where my fellow-guests are still in the flesh.”

It was not a very civil speech, but he manifested no feeling about it. “Kindly remain,” he said. “I am grateful for your presence here. What you have heard to-night I believe myself to have heard twice before. Now I KNOW it was no illusion. That is much to me– more than you know. Have a fresh cigar and a good stock of patience while I tell you the story.”

The rain was now falling more steadily, with a low, monotonous susurration, interrupted at long intervals by the sudden slashing of the boughs of the trees as the wind rose and failed. The night was well advanced, but both sympathy and curiosity held me a willing listener to my friend’s monologue, which I did not interrupt by a single word from beginning to end.

“Ten years ago,” he said, “I occupied a ground-floor apartment in one of a row of houses, all alike, away at the other end of the town, on what we call Rincon Hill. This had been the best quarter of San Francisco, but had fallen into neglect and decay, partly because the primitive character of its domestic architecture no longer suited the maturing tastes of our wealthy citizens, partly because certain public improvements had made a wreck of it. The row of dwellings in one of which I lived stood a little way back from the street, each having a miniature garden, separated from its neighbors by low iron fences and bisected with mathematical precision by a box-bordered gravel walk from gate to door.

“One morning as I was leaving my lodging I observed a young girl entering the adjoining garden on the left. It was a warm day in June, and she was lightly gowned in white. From her shoulders hung a broad straw hat profusely decorated with flowers and wonderfully beribboned in the fashion of the time. My attention was not long held by the exquisite simplicity of her costume, for no one could look at her face and think of anything earthly. Do not fear; I shall not profane it by description; it was beautiful exceedingly. All that I had ever seen or dreamed of loveliness was in that matchless living picture by the hand of the Divine Artist. So deeply did it move me that, without a thought of the impropriety of the act, I unconsciously bared my head, as a devout Catholic or well-bred Protestant uncovers before an image of the Blessed Virgin. The maiden showed no displeasure; she merely turned her glorious dark eyes upon me with a look that made me catch my breath, and without other recognition of my act passed into the house. For a moment I stood motionless, hat in hand, painfully conscious of my rudeness, yet so dominated by the emotion inspired by that vision of incomparable beauty that my penitence was less poignant than it should have been. Then I went my way, leaving my heart behind. In the natural course of things I should probably have remained away until nightfall, but by the middle of the afternoon I was back in the little garden, affecting an interest in the few foolish flowers that I had never before observed. My hope was vain; she did not appear.

“To a night of unrest succeeded a day of expectation and disappointment, but on the day after, as I wandered aimlessly about the neighborhood, I met her. Of course I did not repeat my folly of uncovering, nor venture by even so much as too long a look to manifest an interest in her; yet my heart was beating audibly. I trembled and consciously colored as she turned her big black eyes upon me with a look of obvious recognition entirely devoid of boldness or coquetry.

“I will not weary you with particulars; many times afterward I met the maiden, yet never either addressed her or sought to fix her attention. Nor did I take any action toward making her acquaintance. Perhaps my forbearance, requiring so supreme an effort of self- denial, will not be entirely clear to you. That I was heels over head in love is true, but who can overcome his habit of thought, or reconstruct his character?

“I was what some foolish persons are pleased to call, and others, more foolish, are pleased to be called–an aristocrat; and despite her beauty, her charms and graces, the girl was not of my class. I had learned her name–which it is needless to speak–and something of her family. She was an orphan, a dependent niece of the impossible elderly fat woman in whose lodging-house she lived. My income was small and I lacked the talent for marrying; it is perhaps a gift. An alliance with that family would condemn me to its manner of life, part me from my books and studies, and in a social sense reduce me to the ranks. It is easy to deprecate such considerations as these and I have not retained myself for the defense. Let judgment be entered against me, but in strict justice all my ancestors for generations should be made co-defendants and I be permitted to plead in mitigation of punishment the imperious mandate of heredity. To a mesalliance of that kind every globule of my ancestral blood spoke in opposition. In brief, my tastes, habits, instinct, with whatever of reason my love had left me–all fought against it. Moreover, I was an irreclaimable sentimentalist, and found a subtle charm in an impersonal and spiritual relation which acquaintance might vulgarize and marriage would certainly dispel. No woman, I argued, is what this lovely creature seems. Love is a delicious dream; why should I bring about my own awakening?

“The course dictated by all this sense and sentiment was obvious. Honor, pride, prudence, preservation of my ideals–all commanded me to go away, but for that I was too weak. The utmost that I could do by a mighty effort of will was to cease meeting the girl, and that I did. I even avoided the chance encounters of the garden, leaving my lodging only when I knew that she had gone to her music lessons, and returning after nightfall. Yet all the while I was as one in a trance, indulging the most fascinating fancies and ordering my entire intellectual life in accordance with my dream. Ah, my friend, as one whose actions have a traceable relation to reason, you cannot know the fool’s paradise in which I lived.

“One evening the devil put it into my head to be an unspeakable idiot. By apparently careless and purposeless questioning I learned from my gossipy landlady that the young woman’s bedroom adjoined my own, a party-wall between. Yielding to a sudden and coarse impulse I gently rapped on the wall. There was no response, naturally, but I was in no mood to accept a rebuke. A madness was upon me and I repeated the folly, the offense, but again ineffectually, and I had the decency to desist.

“An hour later, while absorbed in some of my infernal studies, I heard, or thought I heard, my signal answered. Flinging down my books I sprang to the wall and as steadily as my beating heart would permit gave three slow taps upon it. This time the response was distinct, unmistakable: one, two, three–an exact repetition of my signal. That was all I could elicit, but it was enough–too much.

“The next evening, and for many evenings afterward, that folly went on, I always having ‘the last word.’ During the whole period I was deliriously happy, but with the perversity of my nature I persevered in my resolution not to see her. Then, as I should have expected, I got no further answers. ‘She is disgusted,’ I said to myself, ‘with what she thinks my timidity in making no more definite advances’; and I resolved to seek her and make her acquaintance and–what? I did not know, nor do I now know, what might have come of it. I know only that I passed days and days trying to meet her, and all in vain; she was invisible as well as inaudible. I haunted the streets where we had met, but she did not come. From my window I watched the garden in front of her house, but she passed neither in nor out. I fell into the deepest dejection, believing that she had gone away, yet took no steps to resolve my doubt by inquiry of my landlady, to whom, indeed, I had taken an unconquerable aversion from her having once spoken of the girl with less of reverence than I thought befitting.

“There came a fateful night. Worn out with emotion, irresolution and despondency, I had retired early and fallen into such sleep as was still possible to me. In the middle of the night something–some malign power bent upon the wrecking of my peace forever–caused me to open my eyes and sit up, wide awake and listening intently for I knew not what. Then I thought I heard a faint tapping on the wall–the mere ghost of the familiar signal. In a few moments it was repeated: one, two, three–no louder than before, but addressing a sense alert and strained to receive it. I was about to reply when the Adversary of Peace again intervened in my affairs with a rascally suggestion of retaliation. She had long and cruelly ignored me; now I would ignore her. Incredible fatuity–may God forgive it! All the rest of the night I lay awake, fortifying my obstinacy with shameless justifications and–listening.

“Late the next morning, as I was leaving the house, I met my landlady, entering.

“‘Good morning, Mr. Dampier,’ she said. ‘Have you heard the news?’

“I replied in words that I had heard no news; in manner, that I did not care to hear any. The manner escaped her observation.

“‘About the sick young lady next door,’ she babbled on. ‘What! you did not know? Why, she has been ill for weeks. And now–‘

“I almost sprang upon her. ‘And now,’ I cried, ‘now what?”

“She is dead.”

“That is not the whole story. In the middle of the night, as I learned later, the patient, awakening from a long stupor after a week of delirium, had asked–it was her last utterance–that her bed be moved to the opposite side of the room. Those in attendance had thought the request a vagary of her delirium, but had complied. And there the poor passing soul had exerted its failing will to restore a broken connection–a golden thread of sentiment between its innocence and a monstrous baseness owning a blind, brutal allegiance to the Law of Self.

“What reparation could I make? Are there masses that can be said for the repose of souls that are abroad such nights as this–spirits ‘blown about by the viewless winds’–coming in the storm and darkness with signs and portents, hints of memory and presages of doom?

“This is the third visitation. On the first occasion I was too skeptical to do more than verify by natural methods the character of the incident; on the second, I responded to the signal after it had been several times repeated, but without result. To-night’s recurrence completes the ‘fatal triad’ expounded by Parapelius Necromantius. There is no more to tell.”

When Dampier had finished his story I could think of nothing relevant that I cared to say, and to question him would have been a hideous impertinence. I rose and bade him good night in a way to convey to him a sense of my sympathy, which he silently acknowledged by a pressure of the hand. That night, alone with his sorrow and remorse, he passed into the Unknown.






The subjects of tragic love and the supernatural are skillfully intertwined in this curious story by Ambrose Bierce. Mohun Dampier is not an obviously sympathetic character, tightly bound as he is to the relics of his social inheritance – and yet, he is a man of deep sensitivity and the unshakable  sense of formal propriety bequeathed to him by his family and class. These things run parallel to the equally entrenched streak of immaturity and cussedness in him, which in the end bring about his downfall.

That despite his falling helplessly in love, Mohun Dampier found  the prospect of marrying below his class to be an almost unthinkable,  is an idea we might have some difficulty in grasping today. To be fair to Dampier, he lived at a time when class, and not merely money, made for the more significant division between one social group and another. A hundred and fifty years ago, a difference in class signified a difference not just in social and domestic habits, but in values, education and culture as well. Getting married meant that one entered into a durable commitment, and discrepancies in class could very well have lead to significant difficulties for the spouses involved.

Aside from these considerations, which one might suppose to be manageable given his intense and compelling love, it is difficult to understand Dampier’s misgivings. True he believed that marriage led inevitably to the loss of certain cherished illusions, but again, this fails to satisfactorily explain his hesitation. He does not appear to have been a wealthy man – nor does he appear to have had much of a social life, and no relatives, either close or distant are mentioned. There is no evidence in the story of anyone whose disapprobation he might have incurred by ‘marrying beneath’ him, which makes his decision to not approach the ‘girl in white’ more inexplicable still.

However, when taken together, the combined impact of both these assumptions –  the loss of ideals and his need to retain the social approval of outsiders, might together have provided a significant inducement to foregoing the promise of love.

But as time went on, it would seem that despite his initial reservations,  in this regard, his rigidity began to melt. Perhaps he may have rationalised that the rewards of social acceptance might be incommensurate to the price the securing of such a choice might exact in self-denial. Perhaps he was no longer able to resist his heart’s desire. For a modern reader, the reasons for his actions seem difficult to discern, unless a comparison were to be made between Dampier’s reluctance to be ‘reduced to the ranks’ and  the reluctance we see in some homosexuals, to abandon a heterosexual façade.

But Dampier was no hypocrite. He came by his station honestly, and he was not pretending to be something he was not. His tendency to cavil about marriage seems to have been the result of a blend of cynicism and ambivalence, and his attitudes were fraught with confusion and conflict. He may have sought to avoid change by simply staying in place, but change finally overtook him notwithstanding.

When he finally came to a clarity of realisation about his feelings it was too late. Indulgence of the fit of peevishness which prompted him to not respond to the girl’s signals  cost him dearly. The love of his life  being dead, he was condemned to living a lonely life, filled with regret and self-recrimination. His only consolation came from his  belief in the occult  – or perhaps religion –  that the soul is not extinguished by death.  All he could do in the end was to  simply wait for death himself, and one cannot escape the feeling that he waited with anxious expectation for the final summons.









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Sarah Lois Vaughan (March 27 1924 – April 3 1990)





















Once again, perhaps a too-long selection…. But its better than having to choose and leaving things out one would rather not.



Ain’t Misbehavin
















I’ve Got the World on a String

















Bidin’ My Time

















All Too Soon

















Aren’t you Kind of Glad We Did
















Mean to Me

















You’re Blasè

















My Reverie

















Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year

















Love Me or Leave Me

















The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else

















All of Me

















I Remember You















Black Coffee

















What a Difference a Day Makes

















Easy Living

















I’m Lost

















You Go to My Head

















Garden in the Rain
















My Old Flame















Body and Soul


































The Nearness of You

















That’s All

















I Didn’t Know About You
















Goodnight Sweetheart




















Once in a While
Sarah never tickled the ivories without first goofing around a little bit. All this of course (despite the long finger-nails) belied her lovely expressive touch. You can hear the classic influence of the late great Erroll Garner when she gets into stride.






Two for Tea?



Some content on this page was disabled on 15 March, 2018 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Sharan Ghuman. You can learn more about the DMCA here:


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Francesco Petrarca (July 20 1304 – July 19 1374)

















Canzoniere 132

















(S’amor non è)

S’amor non è, che dunque é què i’ sénto?                  
Ma s’ègli é amór, per Dio, che cósa, e quale?
Se buòna, ond’ é ‘l èffettó aspro e mortale?
Se ria; ond’ é sí dolce ògni tormènto?

S’ a mia vóglia ardo; ónd’ è ‘l pianto e ‘l lamènto!
S’ a mal mio grado’; il lamentar che vale?
O viva mórte, o dilettòso male,
Còme puói tanto in mè, s’io nòl cónsénto?

E s’io ‘l cònsénto; a gran tórto mi dóglio.
Fra sè contrári vénti in fragil barca
Mi tróve in alto mar senza govérno.
Sí liéve di savèr, d’erròr di carca,
Ch’ i’ medèsmo nòn só quèl ch’ io mi vòglio;
E trémo a mézza state, ardéndo il vérno.

Francesco Petrarca
















Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343 - 25 October 1400)



















Troilus and Criseyde



















If Love it’s not, O God, what feel I so?  

If Love it is, what sort of thing is he?
If Love be good, from where then comes my woe?
If he be ill, wondrous it seems to me
That every torment and adversity
That comes from him I can so joyous think;
For more I thirst, the more from him I drink.

If it is in my own delight I burn,
From where then comes my wailing and complaint?
Rejoicing, why to tears do I return?
I know not, nor, unweary, why I faint.
Oh living death, oh sweet harm strange and quaint!
How can this harm and death so rage in me,
Unless I do consent that it so be?



And if I do consent, I wrongfully                      
Bewail my case; thus rolled and shaken sore
All rudderless within a boat am I
Amid the sea and out of sight of shore,
Between two winds contrary evermore.
Alas, what is this wondrous malady?
For heat of cold, for cold of heat, I die.

Geoffrey Chaucer





















If no love is, O God, what fele I so?                                    
And if love is, what thing and which is he?
If love be good, from whennes cometh my woo?
If it be wikke, a wonder thynketh me,
When every torment and adversite
That cometh of hym, may to me savory thinke,
For ay thurst I, the more that ich it drynke.

And if that at myn owen lust I brenne,
From whennes cometh my waillynge and my pleynte?
If harm agree me, whereto pleyne I thenne?
I noot, ne whi unwery that I feynte.
O quike deth, O swete harm so queynte,
How may of the in me swich quantite,
But if that I consente that it be?


And if that I consente, I wrongfully                
Compleyne, iwis.   Thus possed to and fro,
Al sterelees withinne a boot am I
Amydde the see, betwixen wyndes two,
That in contrarie stonden evere mo.
Allas! what is this wondre maladie?
For hete of cold, for cold of hete, I dye.






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Joaquín Rodrigo Vidre, 1st Marquis of the Gardens of Aranjuez (November 22, 1901 – July 6, 1999)
















Joaquín Rodrigo, composer of Concierto de Aranjuez





En Aranjuez con tu amor.





Junto a ti, al pasar las horas o mi amor                           
Hay un rumor de fuente de cristal
Que en el jardín parece hablar
En voz baja a las rosas

Dulce amor, esas hojas secas sin color
Que barre el viento
Son recuerdos de romances de un ayer
Huellas y promesas hechas con amor, en Aranjuez
Entre un hombre y una mujer, en un atardecer
Que siempre se recuerda





Oh mi amor, mientras dos se quieran con fervor            
No dejarán las flores de brillar
Ni ha de faltar al mundo paz, ni calor a la tierra
Yo sé bien que hay palabras huecas, sin amor
Que lleva el viento, y que nadie las oyó con atención
Pero otras palabras suenan, oh mi amor al corazón
Como notas de canto nupcial, y así te quiero hablar
Si en Aranjuez me esperas

Luego al caer la tarde se escucha un rumor
Es la fuente que allí parece hablar con las rosas






En Aranjuez, con tu amor

Version 1

To  pass the hours together with you O My Love, there is a sound  in the garden of the crystal fountain that appears to speak      below the roses. sweet love, these are dry leaves, without colour, that drift in the wind, they are memories and romances of  the traces of a yesterday and promises that you make with love in Aranjuez between a woman and a man in a sunset that is always remembered.

O My Love, between those fervently in love, they will not leave the blazing flowers or forfeit  peaceful world  nor the heat of the earth. I know well that there are hollow words without love, that waft in the wind that no one listens to with attention, but Oh, my love there are other words which sound to the heart like notes of the wedding song, and these  are the words I  would wish to speak, if you await me in Aranjuez. soon the evening falls, and one may hear the sound of a fountain  there that seems to speak with the roses….






Version 2






When  it so happens that you chance to pass these hours  with me,  O My Love, below the murmur of the crystal fountain among the roses,  it seems to me I hear in  the sounds  made by the dry and withered leaves bereft of colour that drift in the wind, the voices of memories and romances from days gone by, the traces of the past and the dreams of a yesterday and promises that were made between two lovers in a sunset now long since lost to time.

O My Love, the utterances of those fervently in love will not desert the blazing hues of flowers, nor will they leave the peaceful heat of earth.  Well I know too, that there are words, hollow and loveless that waft in the wind – but these are such that they go unheard by us, and unattended –

But O My Love,  there are other words that sound to the  listening heart like the notes of a wedding song – and such are the words I long to speak to you.

So wait for me in Aranjuez soon as the evening falls, and listen there to the sound of the fountain that seems to speak with the roses…







Un lugar de ensueños y de amor
Donde un rumor de fuentes de cristal
En el jardín parece hablar
En voz baja a las rosas

Hoy las hojas secas sin color
Que barre el viento
Son recuerdos del romance que una vez
Juntos empezamos tu y yo
Y sin razón olvidamos



Quizá ese amor escondido esté                  
En un atardecer
En la brisa o en la flor
Esperando tu regreso

Hoy las hojas secas sin color
Que barre el viento
Son recuerdos del romance que una vez
Juntos empezamos tu y yo
Y sin razón olvidamos

En Aranjuez, amor
Tu y yo






Aranjuez, a place of dreams and love        
where the sound of crystal
fountains in the garden
seem to whisper beneath the roses

Aranjuez, today the dry
leaves without colour
which are swept by the wind
are just reminders of the
romance we once began,
and that we’ve forsaken without reason.

Perhaps this love is hidden in a sunset      
in the breeze or in a flower
waiting for your return

Aranjuez, today the dry
leaves without colour
which are swept by the wind
are just reminders of the
romance we once started
and that we’ve forsaken without reason


Uncredited English translation found on the internet.






Then a slightly more poetic version.

Version 3

When  it so happens that you chance to pass these hours  with me,  O My Love, in the low murmur of the crystal fountain among the roses,  it seems to me I hear in  the sounds  made by the dry and withered leaves bereft of colour that drift in the wind, the voices of memories and romances from days gone by, the traces of the past and the dreams of a yesterday and promises that were made between two lovers in a sunset now long since lost to time.

O My Love, the utterances of those fervently in love will not desert the blazing hues of flowers, nor will they leave the peaceful heat of earth.  well I know too, that there are words, hollow and loveless that waft in the wind – but these are such that they go unheard by us, and unattended –

But O my Love, there are other words that sound to the  listening heart like the notes of a wedding song – and such are the words I long to speak to you.

So wait for me in Aranjuez  at that place where when the evening falls, one hears the sound of the fountain that seems to speak with the roses.








For a long time now, I have wanted to feature Mari Paz Vega, a bull-fighter from Malaga, in a post, but I held myself back due to the controversy which typically surrounds any discussion of bull-fighting. Today I feel like overcoming that hesitation.

Throughout my life I shared the feeling of repugnance and horror many people feel at the idea of bullfighting, of a spectacle where an animal is killed in public, to the accompanying cheers and applause of a blood-thirsty crowd.

Then I saw Mari Paz Vega, and this was my initial reaction:

I only caught the tail end of this magnificent episode of P.O.V, (a title meaning “Point of View”, a series featured on Public Television) and it made something in me fall into a thrilled silence, and the hair on my body stand up.

I learned something totally unexpected about myself.
Until today I loathed the sport of bull fighting. If I heard or read about a matador being injured or killed, something in me exulted, but watching Mari Paz I witnessed my previously fixed attitude fall away and transform itself into a transfixed fascination with the gestures and expressions of this heroic female engaged in her life and death drama. I don’t know if mine is an obvious case of gender bias, but I suspect not. I truly feel that when a woman does something to claim her authentic self, as this woman did, that she herself, as well as the thing she claims, is transformed. I know I will not chose to watch a male matador in the arena, but now I think I understand how male aficionados of this sport feel… and perhaps I can forgive them and  their folly.
Yes, this may be a brutal sport, and the bull may be pitied for his injuries and the loss of his life. But after tonight’s experience I am less willing to judge. Watching  a beautiful woman engaged in acts of elegant bravado, and transforming a sacrament of machismo into something different, fiercely beautiful and operatic opened my soul.










Mari Paz Vega

In this clip one heart-stoppingly sees the frightening risks involved. There is scant room for error. The degree of courage and calm needed to execute this ballet, and the consequences of making a mistake, demand that natural fear – the fear of injury and  death, be confronted and conquered moment by moment. The absolute grace inherent in such an act cannot be impugned. There is no protective gear for either combatant in this encounter, and both have the chance of getting out of it alive  – or not. The lethality of the context of the arena, and the bravura displayed by Mari Paz within its confines, shouts out to me of a transgressive Lesbian sensibility, which for me is undoubtedly a part of its appeal , and I make no claims here for any sense of objectivity: nor do I apologise.

The act of machismo, loved and admired by the likes of  Ernest Hemingway, perhaps the most famous American aficionado of the corrida, involved man against bull, but I can find in myself no place that resonates with that phenomenon.  I ask myself, how my reaction to Mari Paz could be different from watching a male matador, and my answer to myself is highly complex and subjective. It is found, I think in the contemplation of female power and grace – in witnessing a woman who confronts herself, who confronts real and present danger, along with the weight of centuries of male tradition, in an arena where hitherto men claimed an exclusive presence for themselves.

Notwithstanding its pre-patriarchal origins of bull-vaulting, the Tavrokathapsia (seen on the frescoes in Knossos) of ancient Crete, where girls and boys performed in the bull-ring, and where no sacred bulls were killed, its modern equivalent involves the shedding of animal blood. Blood-shed and agility dance together in the corrida. In the world we know, men have always dominated: bravery and valour has always been a male preserve. Here Mari Paz is a largely unwelcome interloper who makes the time-honoured claim for herself. That alone is sufficient to make me want to stand up and applaud.

The song “En Aranjuez con tu amor” has traditionally been associated with a matador and his lover. The dominant poetic impression which arises in my imagination when I hear this song, is something I have always referred to myself as “the ghost in the garden.” This is the uncanny, unseen presence one sometimes feels in the pregnant  silence of a garden where wild nature is the dominant spirit. It is beautifully evoked in Tomasso Lampedusa’s renowned novel of pre-risorgimiento Sicily, “Il Gattopardo” – “The Leopard.” The presence in that garden is of the death of History – and of course there is also the body of a dead soldier among the over-blown French roses with their scent of voluptuous decay, and the marble fountain with its covering of algae, desultorily pouring out its reluctant trickle of water in the hot Sicilian night.

In “En Aranjuez con tu amor” the shadow of death is present – the death of old leaves and flowers,  the death of love and lovers of the past and the incipient death of the lover from whose mouth the words of the song unfold. Love and death are the two sides of a single coin, and when they are found mingled together in a poem, or the words of a song, a genuine homage is paid to the full weight and value of the power and mystery of life itself. The bull-ring is the garden transformed, and with its usually covert side in full display.

For the vociferous critics of bull fighting, who say they object to animal cruelty,  I have a serious question: How do they feel when they stick their forks in a steak, or get their meal handed to them through the window or over the counter at a fast food restaurant? Do they consider the indignities and cruelties suffered by the animals they eat? Do they know what goes on in feed-lots and slaughter houses? Do they know how ‘beef-cattle’ are raised? How veal is procured? If they do, and still eat beef even as they inveigh against the cruelty of the bull-ring, I would aver they are being hypocritical.

The bull who enters the bull-ring is in a sense a pampered animal. He has demanded and received the care and respect of the people who raised him right up to the moment of his death, which he encounters in the  full spate of heat of passion and aggression. He has almost nothing in common with the tortured and exploited servile animals who are sacrificed merely  for the satisfaction of our meat-eating appetites and the pleasure of our taste-buds. Political correctness can only go so far.  So to my mind,  the only people who can raise a seriously valid and respectable objection to the corrida are non- meat- eaters, vegetarians and vegans.






About Mari Paz Vega:

Fabienne Williams
Mari Paz Vega: bullfighter

The fear, says Mari Paz Vega, never goes away. In fact, the world’s premier female bullfighter says that standing alone in front of an animal 10 times her weight before a crowd ready to boo every inelegant move becomes even more tense as time goes by. ‘As you get more experience you become more aware of the responsibility and what the bull can do to you,’ she says. ‘But conquering the fear is one of the most beautiful things about being a torero.’

Vega became a matadora de toros in 1997 when she was 22, after an apprenticeship fighting younger bulls. To do so, she took part in a special corrida where she had to face a four-year-old bull weighing more than 459 kilos. Vega was the first woman to perform the coming-of-age ceremony in a Spanish bullring and one of only six to do so anywhere. ‘I was very proud,’ she says, comparing the day to a first communion or a wedding. ‘You don’t know if you are going to be up to it, until you do it.’ Her sponsor for the occasion, an established matador who ceremonially introduces the newcomer, was Cristina Sanchez – the trailblazing female bullfighter, who graduated the year before in France. Sanchez retired in 1999, irritated, she said, at being denied the chance to participate in major events by colleagues unwilling to share billing with a woman.

Vega persevered, consolidating her star status not in Spain but in Latin America (particularly in Mexico and Venezuela), where she says the bullfighting world is less sexist than in Spain. But the 32-year-old’s ambition remains to perform on the most important stage in the bullfighting world – the San Isidro festival in the Las Ventas bullring in Madrid.

‘I have proved now that I am just another torero and that I deserve the opportunity,’ she says. ‘They know now that Mari Paz Vega is still here. That she is a professional. That this was never just a game.’

But it did begin as a game, playing at bullfighting with her five brothers when she was growing up in Malaga. Their father had tried, and failed, to reach the big leagues himself and worked as a mozo de espada – a valet figure within a matador’s team of assistants.

Despite her father’s warnings that a hard and risky life would be even more difficult because of her gender, Vega became obsessed with the sport. Her mother’s death when she was 14 only added to her determination, as did the injuries she sustained – she was gored in the leg in 2000 and fractured a femur the following year when she was trampled. ‘Everybody says you are not a true matador until you’ve been hurt,’ she says. ‘You have to find out whether you are capable of getting over it and getting back in the ring.’

Bullfighting chat rooms lament the way she has been marginalised on the Spanish circuit. Women have made occasional appearances in the bullring since the 18th century, even at times when it was against the law for them to compete. Today there is only one other active female matadora – Spain’s Raquel Sanchez – and a handful of apprentices.

Vega insists there is nothing to stop a woman taking to the ring with as much skill as a man and she laughs at the idea of separate events for men and women. Physical strength plays a part, she concedes, but it doesn’t determine who triumphs. ‘What we want is equality,’ says Vega. ‘We all kill the bull.’


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Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas
(14 September 1580 – 8 September 1645)



















¡Cómo de entre mis manos te resbalas!    

¡Cómo de entre mis manos te resbalas!
¡Oh, cómo te deslizas, edad mía!
¡Qué mudos pasos traes, oh, muerte fría,
pues con callado pie todo lo igualas!

Feroz, de tierra el débil muro escalas,
en quien lozana juventud se fía;
mas ya mi corazón del postrer día
atiende el vuelo, sin mirar las alas.

¡Oh, condición mortal! ¡Oh, dura suerte!
¡Que no puedo querer vivir mañana
sin la pensión de procurar mi muerte!

Cualquier instante de la vida humana
es nueva ejecución, con que me advierte
cuán frágil es, cuán mísera, cuán vana.














How from between my hands you slip away

How from between my hands you slip away
Oh how you flow away, my years, my life.
What muted steps you take, O frigid death,
When with your silent feet you make all equal.

Ferociously, you ascend earth’s weak rampart,
upon which robust youth placed such reliance.
Already my heart awaits the final day,
attending thus the flight of unseen wings.

O mortal condition, O unyielding fate,
that I could not desire to see tomorrow
unless I pay the price by death exacted.

At any instant of this human life
a new decree awaits, serving to warn me
how fragile it is, how miserable, how vain.
















Todo tras sí lo lleva el año breve               

Todo tras sí lo lleva el año breve
de la vida mortal, burlando el brío
al acero valiente, al mármol frío,
que contra el Tiempo su dureza atreve.

Antes que sepa andar el pie, se mueve
camino de la muerte, donde envío
mi vida oscura: pobre y turbio río
que negro mar con altas ondas bebe.

Todo corto momento es paso largo
que doy, a mi pesar, en tal jornada,
pues, parado y durmiendo, siempre aguijo.

Breve suspiro, y último, y amargo,
es la muerte, forzosa y heredada;
mas si es ley, y no pena, ¿qué me aflijo?


















All these are swept away in one brief year              

All these are swept away in one brief year,
mortal life scoffed at, the spirited impetus
of  eager and valiant steel and icy marble
which dares to oppose time with its resistance.

Before the foot knows how to walk, it moves
along the road to death, whereto I send
my obscure life, a poor and turbid river,
which towering waves of a black sea then drink up.

Each brief moment becomes a lengthy stride
which adds to each day’s demands another burden,
since standing fast or sleeping, I am goaded.,

Brief breath, and so it ends: bitter is death:
an unavoidable, and sure inheritance. But if its
only law, and not punishment, why should I worry?

















Amor constante más allá de la muerte

Cerrar podrá mis ojos la postrera
sombra, que me llevare el blanco día,
y podrá desatar esta alma mía
hora a su afán ansioso lisonjera;

mas no, desotra parte, en la ribera,
dejará la memoria, en donde ardía:
nadar sabe mi llama el agua fría,
y perder el respeto a ley severa.

Alma a quien todo un dios prisión ha sido,
venas que humor a tanto fuego han dado,
médulas que han gloriosamente ardido,

su cuerpo dejarán, no su cuidado;
serán ceniza, más tendrán sentido,
polvo serán, más polvo enamorado.

















Love constant beyond death.                                                     

So will it shut my eyes, this final shadow,
which bears away from me the whitened day
and so will it unbind this soul of mine
now of its eager and anxious beguilements.

But not even from the remotest shoreline
will it depart, that burning memory,
which though inflamed, knows how to swim the icy waters,
casting aside respect for even the severest law.

Soul, which has held all that’s divine imprisoned,
veins, which endowed with blazing fire its humours,
setting the very marrow gloriously aflame,

Its body forsaken, still it takes no care
though it be turned to cinders, still retains feeling –
though turned to dust, it still remains in love.

















Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not arrived,
Today goes on without a stop in sight;
I am a ‘had been’, a ‘to be’ and one who is weary.

Ayer se fue, mañana no ha llegado,
hoy se está yendo sin parar un punto;
soy un fue, y un seré, y un es cansado.


Translations Dia Tsung.



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Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7,1849)

In the consideration of the faculties and impulses — of the prima mobilia of the human soul, the phrenologists have failed to make room for a propensity which, although obviously existing as a radical, primitive, irreducible sentiment, has been equally overlooked by all the moralists who have preceded them. In the pure arrogance of the reason, we have all overlooked it. We have suffered its existence to escape our senses solely through want of belief — of faith; — whether it be faith in Revelation, or faith in the Kabbala. The idea of it has never occurred to us, simply because of its supererogation. We saw no need of impulse — for the propensity. We could not perceive its necessity. We could not understand, that is to say, we could not have understood, had the notion of this primum mobile ever obtruded itself; — we could not have understood in what manner it might be made to further the objects of humanity, either temporal or eternal. It cannot be denied that phrenology and, in great measure, all metaphysicianism have been concocted a priori. The intellectual or logical man, rather than the understanding or observant man, set himself to imagine designs — to dictate purposes to God. Having thus fathomed, to his satisfaction, the intentions of Jehovah, out of these intentions he built his innumerable systems of mind. In the matter of phrenology, for example, we first determined, naturally enough, that it was the design of the Deity that man should eat. We then assigned to man an organ of alimentiveness, and this organ is the scourge with which the Deity compels man, will-I nill-I, into eating. Secondly, having settled it to be God’s will that man should continue his species, we discovered an organ of amativeness, forthwith. And so with combativeness, with ideality, with causality, with constructiveness, — so, in short, with every organ, whether representing a propensity, a moral sentiment, or a faculty of the pure intellect. And in these arrangements of the principia of human action, the Spurzheimites, whether right or wrong, in part, or upon the whole, have but followed, in principle, the footsteps of their predecessors; deducing and establishing everything from the preconceived destiny of man, and upon the ground of the objects of this Creator.It would have been wiser, it would have been safer, to classify (if classify we must) upon the basis of what man usually or occasionally did, and was always occasionally doing, rather than upon the basis of what he took it for granted the Deity intended him to do. If we cannot comprehend God in his visible works, how then in his inconceivable thoughts, that call the works into being? If we cannot understand him in his objective creatures, how then in his substantive moods and phases of creation?Induction, a posteriori, would have brought phrenology to admit, as an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness, for want of a more characteristic term. In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but, in fact, there is none more strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions it becomes absolutely irresistible. I am not more certain that I breathe, than that the assurance of the wrong or error of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us to its prosecution. Nor will this overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong’s sake, admit of analysis, or resolution into ulterior elements. It is radical, a primitive impulse — elementary. It will be said, I am aware, that when we persist in acts because we feel we should not persist in them, our conduct is but a modification of that which ordinarily springs from the combativeness of phrenology. But a glance will show the fallacy of this idea. The phrenological combativeness has, for its essence, the necessity of self-defence. It is our safeguard against injury. Its principle regards our well-being; and thus the desire to be well is excited simultaneously with its development. It follows, that the desire to be well must be excited simultaneously with any principle which shall be merely a modification of combativeness, but in the case of that something which I term perverseness, the desire to be well is not only aroused, but a strongly antagonistical sentiment exists.

An appeal to one’s own heart is, after all, the best reply to the sophistry just noticed. No one who trustingly consults and thoroughly questions his own soul, will be disposed to deny the entire radicalness of the propensity in question. It is not more incomprehensible than distinctive. There lives no man who at some period has not been tormented, for example, by an earnest desire to tantalize a listener by circumlocution. The speaker is aware that he displeases, he has every intention to please; he is usually curt, precise, and clear; the most laconic and luminous language is struggling for utterance upon his tongue; it is only with difficulty that he restrains himself from giving it flow; he dreads and deprecates the anger of him whom he addresses; yet, the thought strikes him, that by certain involutions and parentheses this anger may be engendered. That single thought is enough. The impulse increases to a wish, the wish to a desire, the desire to an uncontrollable longing, and the longing (to the deep regret and mortification of the speaker, and in defiance of all consequences) is indulged.

We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action. We glow, we are consumed with eagerness to commence the work, with the anticipation of whose glorious result our whole souls are on fire. It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow; and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse, using the word with no comprehension of the principle. To-morrow arrives, and with it a more impatient anxiety to do our duty, but with this very increase of anxiety arrives, also, a nameless, a positively fearful, because unfathomable, craving for delay. This craving gathers strength as the moments fly. The last hour for action is at hand. We tremble with the violence of the conflict within us, — of the definite with the indefinite — of the substance with the shadow. But, if the contest has proceeded thus far, it is the shadow which prevails — we struggle in vain. The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer-note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies — it disappears — we are free. The old energy returns. We will labour now. Alas, it is too late!

We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness and horror become merged in a cloud of unnamable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapour from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genius or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination — for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge. To indulge, for a moment, in any attempt at thought, is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge, and are destroyed.

Examine these and similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse. We perpetrate them merely because we feel that we should not Beyond or behind this there is no intelligible principle; and we might, indeed, deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the arch-fiend, were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good.

I have said thus much, that in some measure I may answer your question — that I may explain to you why I am here — that I may assign to you something that shall have at least the faint aspect of a cause for my wearing these fetters, and for my tenanting this cell of the condemned. Had I not been thus prolix, you might either have misunderstood me altogether, or, with the rabble, have fancied me mad. As it is, you will easily perceive that I am one of the many uncounted victims of the Imp of the Perverse.

It is impossible that any deed could have been wrought with a more thorough deliberation. For weeks, for months, I pondered upon the means of the murder. I rejected a thousand schemes, because their accomplishment involved a chance of detection. At length, in reading some French memoirs, I found an account of a nearly fatal illness that occurred to Madame Pilau, through the agency of a candle accidentally poisoned. The idea struck my fancy at once. I knew my victim’s habit of reading in bed. I knew, too, that his apartment was narrow and ill-ventilated. But I need not vex you with impertinent details. I need not describe the easy artifices by which I substituted, in his bed-room candle stand, a wax-light of my own making for the one which I there found. The next morning he was discovered dead in his bed, and the coroner’s verdict was — ‘Death by the visitation of God.’

Having inherited his estate, all went well with me for years. The idea of detection never once entered my brain. Of the remains of the fatal taper I had myself carefully disposed. I had left no shadow of a clue by which it would be possible to convict, or even suspect, me of the crime. It is inconceivable how rich a sentiment of satisfaction arose in my bosom as I reflected upon my absolute security. For a very long period of time I was accustomed to revel in this sentiment. It afforded me more real delight than all the mere worldly advantages accruing from my sin. But there arrived at length an epoch, from which the pleasurable feeling grew, by scarcely perceptible gradations, into a haunting and harassing thought. It harassed me because it haunted. I could scarcely get rid of it for an instant. It is quite a common thing to be thus annoyed with the ringing in our ears, or rather in our memories, of the burthen of some ordinary song, or some unimpressive snatches from an opera. Nor will we be the less tormented if the song in itself be good, or the opera air meritorious. In this manner, at last, I would perpetually catch myself pondering upon my security, and repeating, in a low under-tone, the phrase, ‘I am safe.’

One day, whilst sauntering along the streets, I arrested myself in the act of murmuring, half aloud, these customary syllables. In a fit of petulance I re-modelled them thus: ‘I am safe — I am safe — yes — if I be not fool enough to make open confession.’

No sooner had I spoken these words, than I felt an icy chill creep to my heart. I had had some experience in these fits of perversity (whose nature I have been at some trouble to explain), and I remembered well that in no instance I had successfully resisted their attacks. And now my own casual self-suggestion, that I might possibly be fool enough to confess the murder of which I had been guilty, confronted me, as if the very ghost of him whom I had murdered — and beckoned me on to death.

At first, I made an effort to shake off this nightmare of the soul. I walked vigorously — faster — still faster — at length I ran. I felt a maddening desire to shriek aloud. Every succeeding wave of thought overwhelmed me with new terror, for, alas! I well, too well, understood that to think, in my situation, was to be lost. I still quickened my pace. I bounded like a madman through the crowded thoroughfares. At length, the populace took the alarm and pursued me. I felt then the consummation of my fate. Could I have torn out my tongue, I would have done it — but a rough voice resounded in my ears — a rougher grasp seized me by the shoulder. I turned — I gasped for breath. For a moment I experienced all the pangs of suffocation; I became blind, and deaf, and giddy; and then some invisible fiend, I thought, struck me with his broad palm upon the back. The long-imprisoned secret burst forth from my soul.

They say that I spoke with a distinct enunciation, but with marked emphasis and passionate hurry, as if in dread of interruption before concluding the brief but pregnant sentences that consigned me to the hangman and to hell.

Having related all that was necessary for the fullest judicial conviction, I fell prostrate in a swoon.

But why shall I say more? To-day I wear these chains, and am here! To-morrow I shall be fetterless! — but where?













Here is Vincent Price’s bravura performance of Poe’s best known works. His fiendish delight his malicious cackle, his overwrought enthusiasm, all make for a brilliantly manic display, which were he to have heard it, would be guaranteed to have made Poe proud.





Consistent in Poe’s writing, is a sense of chafing and straining against the restrictions of language in an effort to carry the mind into the unimpeded realm of the imagination. This is a mind which expresses itself in the images found beyond words, which is to say, the subconscious. His cataracts of vocables and torrents of words stress the supremacy of sound, through which an altered and modified sense is permitted. They compel hearing rather than sight to become the dominant faculty of the reading experience. His excesses serve an emphatically reiterative purpose, to subdue, on the one hand, the censorship of the conscious mind, and to liberate its counterpart, and leave it free to experience the chaotic fears and fantasies it usually indulges in during the hours of sleep.

When I read Poe last night, I was repeatedly reminded of Chopin: not his nocturnes, as I might have expected, but his etudes, with their persistently dark one-handed counterpoint to the progress of the melodic line. Poe’s dark romanticism seem to me to form a literary parallel to Chopin’s music – though in Poe’s hands the overtones and harmonics horrify even as they delight – if indeed one can be said to feel delight at something incontrovertibly ghastly.

Poe was undoubtedly a morbid fantasist, making excellent use of his familiarity with what we today call the subconscious. He dredged his own imagination for all the fears and horrors which he correctly surmised beset his reading public, and which fill us with dread even today – premature burial, immuration, sensory deprivation, claustrophobia, torture and imprisonment, and the ghoulishly supernatural.

Poe’s writing has never been considered to be in good taste, though to be fair to him, good taste might not at all have been high on his list of concerns. That epicene arbiter of literary epicureanism, Henry James, is quoted as saying “An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.” To give James his due, he has a point, but of course not the one he intended to make. The primitivism James so snootily and invidiously deplores, is the very thing that provides the occasional sign of life in his own ponderous novels – the hidden and ungovernable impulses which lie below the social sheen of finely parsed proprieties.  James, with his effete ways and his  heavy burden of upper-class pretensions, could not but be appalled by Poe’s brash sensationalism.  To my mind however, Poe is by far the greater genius, the more original thinker, and the superior innovator. If James was the staid anglophile, Poe was the typical American, full of new ideas, novel insights, and original perspectives.

Poe was an innovator. He invented the detective story and the science fiction story, and was the first to come up with the idea of ‘the big bang.’ He was a scathing literary critic himself, pronouncing Washington Irving as overrated and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow a plagiarist (he aimed his accusations of plagiarism at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow because of what he perceived as Longfellow’s servile aping of European poetical conventions.) Not satisfied with this, he also announced that the best thing about James Fenimore Cooper’s book was the bad paper on which it was printed.

Poe’s verbal exuberance prompted him to come up with words such as aeronaut, bewinged, bugaboo, cryptograph (Poe was a talented cryptographer) didacticisms, elocutionary, finicky, grotesquerie, hysteria, odorless, pants, and unclassifiable. Writers such as Sheridan le Fanu and Bram Stoker are his spiritual heirs, as are in a sense Baudelaire,  Duchamp, Dali, and  of course, Alfred Hitchcock.

It is natural to speculate about what could have given rise to such a fertile mind as Poe possessed, a mind, if one is to judge by his writing, fizzing and bubbling with fantastic speculations. The idea that Poe suffered from manic depression has been advanced by Kay Redfield Jamison. Many creative people suffer from this disorder, and such a condition might explain the headlong rush of Poe’s writing style. I tend to think that Poe was what Susan Sontag referred to as ‘a heroic depressive,’ which is someone who manages his or her depression by engaging in tasks which demand a high degree of attention and organisation.

Even had it not been clinical, Poe had serious and legitimate reasons for his depression. When his mother, a stage actress died, he was left orphaned at the age of three, separated from his siblings, and sent to live with a wealthy tobacco merchant, with whom he was never on the easiest of terms. His young wife (and cousin) Virginia Clemm, whom he married when he was aged 27 and she 13, died in 1847, aged 24. Though we might recoil at the thought of a 13 year- old marrying an adult man, it might be helpful to consider that Virginia was Poe’s cousin and she knew him well. Nor was she was forced to marry him. She never had to leave her mother Maria Clemm in order to live with Poe, and the three of them remained a close-knit and mutually supportive family for the rest of Virginia’s life. Poe loved Maria Clemm as a mother, and addressed her affectionately as “Muddy.”  Most importantly, Virginia  was not compelled to bear and raise children, and Poe provided as best he could for her, always seeing to it she had a piano or a harp in the home so she was never deprived of the pleasant and necessary to her pass-time of playing music.When she died, Poe was stricken, and he only survived her by two grief- filled and miserable years, during which time he would sometimes leave the house on sleepless nights in order to lie beside her grave.

Dogged by bad luck and poverty during most of his life – Poe was often too impoverished to procure the most basic necessities such as the money for heating his home or even to put food on the table. Nonetheless he struggled on, trying to make a living solely by the sale of his work. He received no royalties from the sale of his first book Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and the rights to his most famous work “The Raven” were sold for $15.00.  His story “The Tell-Tale Heart” was initially turned down for publication. However, Poe’s unique writing style as a morbid fantasist caught the imagination of his reading public, which must have cast an inexplicable spell of fascination upon their minds. Here was Poe spinning compelling tales which appealed to the part of the mind which we call the subconscious – something which would not be conceived of as a mental or psychological construct for another three quarters of a century.

The foundation of the gothic novel had been laid by Ann Radcliffe, (The Mysteries of Udolpho published in 1794) and  much later Mary Shelly (Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus published in 1823) but it was Poe who crisply and effectively adapted the characteristic elements of  baroque horror and morbid fantasy to the form of the short story. The themes which tend to fascinate and horrify us to this day, those of sensory deprivation, claustrophobia, premature burial, were Poe’s stock in trade. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s cruel ridicule of Poe in referring to him as “the jingle man” for his over-use of rhyme in poetry, and apparent lack of rigour: hepointed to Poe’s  seeming inability to hold back the glut of words –  but this was the very  device which drove Poe’s stories. His intentional use of the sound of words to speed up and slow down thought suggests to me that the rate at which the reader’s eyes perceive the words and the brain assimilates their meaning are meant to be kept in synch; the images that follow are calibrated with careful instinct to achieve the maximum effect. We seem to hear his words as the approach of heavy footsteps in the tenebrous gloom of a house we had hitherto thought to be unoccupied, and suddenly in the middle of a Poe story, we find ourselves transported from our world of reassuring daylight, right into the depths of ‘the dark side.’

In “The Imp of the Perverse”, a purely psychological rather than supernatural tale, we hear an echo of the fable of Midas and the secret he tried so hard to keep – that he had asses’ ears. In this story, the imp seems to play the part of conscience – the compulsion of the protagonist to confess to having committed an act of murder for pecuniary gain.

Though the whole preamble that introduces this very brief short story might sound suspiciously like mumbo-jumbo, note Poe’s explanation – in which he has very neatly defined our subconscious urgings:

“a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness, for want of a more characteristic term. In the sense I intend, it is, in fact, a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt. Through its promptings we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not. In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but, in fact, there is none more strong.”

These implacable promptings, whether they are of our best or worst instincts, defy our attempts to repress them. Whether these impulses compel self-revelation in the form of creativity or confession, they cannot in the end be denied. In fact, what “The Imp of the Perverse” seems to be saying is “truth will out.” The man in this story has contrived to secure his financial well-being by means of murder. He has cannily accomplished this with malice aforethought, and fabricated a wax taper imbued with poison. He has removed and disposed of the evidence of his crime, and ensured his safety from possible discovery. He savours his exemption from punishment by whispering to himself the reassuring phrase of “I am safe, I am safe.” Unlike King Midas, he entrusts nothing or no one with his secret. But he has not counted on what Shelly might have referred to as the “Epipsychidion” – the little psychic self – which in this case propels him helplessly towards self-incrimination. He is the creature of his irresistible impulse  – though he is not at all aware of what he is saying, nor does he retain any memory of what he has said. A part of his mind has gone AWOL, and he cannot compel it back.

The force of ‘will beyond will’ which functions  in a manner that is punitive and inimical to his self-interest puts an end to the internal civil war between the ‘conniver self’ and the ‘social and moral justice seeking self.’ It has been lying dormant like a serpent ready to strike, until the moment of perfect susceptibility presented itself. The moment of madness held at bay, but barely, and only with the greatest effort, is a thing which in a moment shatters the claustrophobic bonds of its own repression.   The dungeons, prisons, walled-in graves, coffins etc of Poe’s other stories are all symbolic of a species of psychic repression from which we seek to escape. But the escapee is not always something – or someone –  familiar to us.

For most of his life, Poe was himself was himself a crumbling ruin, doomed from his earliest childhood. Abandoned by his father as an infant, orphaned at age three, he suffered many subsequent bereavements before the last and most devastating – the death of his young wife. Following this shattering loss, Poe desperately sought to remarry, courting Sarah Elmirah Royster who was then a widow. He proposed to Sarah in a cemetery, begging her to save him from himself. When his suit did not meet with success, the next year Poe managed to get himself engaged to Sarah Helen Whitman. The engagement only lasted a month, since it had been made on a condition stipulated by Whitman that Poe abstain from drinking. His predictable lapse and its unavoidable outcome was followed by a suicide attempt, when Poe took 60 times the ‘normal’ dose of laudanum. Poe survived the ordeal.  He then renewed his friendship with Royster, and was on his way to marry her when he took an unexpected ( and some say mistaken) detour to Baltimore where he died a few days later on October, 1849, aged 40 years.

Poe died a broken man, friendless and impoverished. He had endured grievous misfortune, several bereavements, poverty and loss. He had lived through two cholera epidemics. He suffered from a devastating degree of alcohol intolerance (a single glass of wine was said to inebriate him.) He obviously suffered from depression, and  admitted to at least one suicide attempt.  He said of himself in a letter “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness, I drank – God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to drink, rather than the drink to insanity.”  The horror and damnation of a tormented psyche was a familiar thing to Poe as was “the keen collective calmness of despair” (“The Pit and the Pendulum.”)

There were only four mourners at Poe’s funeral. His memory was besmirched by the man (here to be nameless, since to mention his name alongside Poe’s would be to confer on it a dignity it does not deserve) who filled Poe’s obituary with scurrilous lies, and on account of these falsehoods, Poe is still thought of  by some as a souse and a dope fiend. He was in fact neither. Poe’s unforgettable poem “Annabelle Lee”, (which I learned in First form Elocution) was written in memory of his wife Virginia and was published posthumously ten days after his death.

Poe was interred on the grounds of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, now part of the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore. In 1875, about 25 years later, his remains were exhumed and moved to their present location near an imposing monument.   As for Virginia’s remains, when the cemetery where she was buried was destroyed, Poe’s biographer William Fearing Gill retrieved her remains and for several years stored them in a box beneath his bed. Nearly 40 years after her death, Virginia’s remains, along with those of her mother Maria Clemm were re-buried on either side of Poe in 1885, and the little family of nephew and aunt, husband and wife, mother and daughter, were at last reunited to rest in peace together.

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