Tag Archives: Classics

Monday Quote: Homer’s The Odyssey, fate & free will

Odysseus and the Sirens, Greek Red-Figure Stamnos Vase, c. 480-460 BCE, British Museum

Oh for shame, how the mortals put the blame on us gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they, rather, who by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given.

Zeus in The Odyssey

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Title:  The Bell Jar
Author:  Sylvia Plath
Length:  288 pages
ALL-TIME FAVORITE!

It’s hard to believe that I have yet to dedicate a post to The Bell Jar, but I just looked back and confirmed it.  What’s wrong with me?  This is my all-time favorite novel.  The only novel that I make it a point to revisit at least once a year.  Every time that I read it, I keep a pencil or highlighter in hand, because I always find some new passage that I absolutely need to make a note of.  Though, there are plenty of passages that are so powerful, that they stuck out from the beginning.  Such as from this past Quotable Monday post:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked.  One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Antila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above thee figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

The Bell Jar sucks the reader into Esther’s downward spiral.  Plath makes mental illness completely accessible in the pages of this novel – you don’t, for a second, doubt what the character is going through.  At times, perhaps even a lot of the time, you see some of your own fears, paranoia, or thoughts reflected in what Esther is experiencing.

Additionally, the pages are full of memorable scenes, absurd characters, passages that will make you laugh, and some that will make you shiver.  For all of these reasons, and more, The Bell Jar is considered an American Classic.  And, for me, it will always be a personal favorite.

There is even talk that there will be a re-make of the film.  The talk has been going on for years now, but according to IMDB’s page, it’s slated for a 2012 release and starring Julia Stiles and, possibly, Rose McGowan.  All I can say is that it can’t POSSIBLY be any worse than the version that came out in the 1970s.  “YIKES!” is the only word to describe that theatrical failure.

Purchase The Bell Jar on Amazon.

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Poetry by Emily Bronte


Emily Bronte is best known for her novel, Wuthering Heights (one of my all-time favorites).  In addition to this amazing, epic novel, however, Bronte wrote poems.  A slew of poems that I have yet to read!  So, today, the poems that I share here are poems that I am reading for the first time, as well.

Spellbound

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

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

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

Remembrance

Cold in the earth—and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-severing wave?

Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern leaves cover
Thy noble heart forever, ever more?

Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers,
From those brown hills, have melted into spring;
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!

Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No later light has lightened up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee.

But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.

Then did I check the tears of useless passion—
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?

See more of Emily Bronte’s releases on her Amazon page.

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The Accident by Elie Wiesel

Title:  The Accident
Author:  Elie Wiesel
Length:  111 pages

If an author chooses to preface their book with a quote, chances are, that quote is highly valuable in discerning deeper meaning from what you are about to read. The Accident opens with this quote:

I was once more struck by the truth of the ancient saying: Man’s heart is a ditch full of blood.  The loved ones who have died throw themselves down on the bank of this ditch to drink the book and so come to life again; the dearer they are to you, the more of your blood they drink.

– Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

Opening quotes like that also play a major role in setting a tone for the story that is about to unfold before you on each page.

The Accident is the third installment in the Night trilogy, but, like with Dawn, don’t expect this to be a direct continuation of the previous stories.  Like Dawn, this story is fictional, but the main character has lived through some of the same real-life hell that the author lived through in the concentration camps. Through the main character, Eliezer, we witness some of the emotional and psychological aftermath of being a survivor.

After reading the first few pages, I thought that this might be a love story (once again I didn’t read any reviews of blurbs on this before diving getting into it) and was excited to see how Wiesel would tackle a love story since I have so totally fallen in love with his writing and voice.  As you may already know, I was wrong, though I don’t feel as though I was entirely wrong.

It’s not a love story in any traditional sense, but the main character struggles with an (in)ability to love (others, himself, and life) while he has a woman in his life who would really like to be able to make things work.  But we learn that one person cannot change another and no one person can completely overcome their significant others history.  Especially if that history leaves him or her yearning for death.

Buy The Accident on Amazon.

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Quotable Monday: Lolita


Lolita
 is one of my favorite novels.  Ever.  I first read this, for pleasure, while in college during a Christmas break.  I was drawn to the book for the scandalous elements, but I fell in love with the novel due to the nonpareil beauty of the language and storytelling.  Vladimir Nabokov is truly a gem of a writer and I hope to one day totally consume all of his work.

The quote that I am sharing today is at the opening of the book and the perfect example of everything that I love about this book.  I love this quote so much that I even gave a toast to it in my college speech seminar.  Yup, I’m that dorky.  So, without further ado, please fall in love with the language….

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  My sin, my soul.  Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.  Lo.  Lee.  Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock.  She was Lola in slacks.  She was Dolly at school.  She was Dolores on the dotted line.  But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Buy Lolita on Amazon.

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Yeats in love

Yeats - further proving that (most) poets are total dream boats

After graduating college, I worked in a Borders bookstore (RIP), which was both awesome and not-so-awesome.  Awesome because I was surrounded by books all day and not-so-awesome because my student loan repayments were quickly approaching and I was making very little money.  One of the perks that I miss about working in a bookstore are all of the recommendations that people make.  One recommendation I received was for A Poet to His Beloved by W.B. Yeats.  At the time, I thought that this man was flirting with me in a rather dreamy way, but, looking back, I think that he was just really making an incredible recommendation for me.

Ephemera

‘Your eyes that once were never weary of mine
Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,
Because our love is waning.’
And then she:
‘Although our love is waning, let us stand
By the lone border of the lake once more,
Together in that hour of gentleness
When the poor tired child, Passion, falls asleep.
How far away the stars seem, and how far
Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!’

Pensively they paced along the faded leaves,
While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:
‘Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.’
The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves
Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once
A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;
Autumn was over him: and now they stood
On the long border of the lake once more:
Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves
Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,
In bosom and hair.
‘Ah, do not mourn,’ he said,
‘That we are tired, for other lovers await us;
Hate on and love through unrepining hours.
Before us lies eternity; our souls
Are love, and a continual farewell.’

He Tells of the Perfect Beauty

O cloud-pale eyelids, dream-dimmed eyes.
The poets labouring all their days
To build a perfect beauty in rhyme
Are overthrown by a woman’s gaze
And by the unlabouring brood of the skies:
And therefore my heart will bow, when dew
Is dropping sleep, until God burn time,
Before the unlabouring stars and you.

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows on your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Buy A Poet to His Beloved on Amazon. 

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Dawn by Elie Wiesel

Title:  Dawn
Author:  Elie Wiesel
Length:  96 pages

I read Dawn immediately after I finished Elie Wiesel’s best known book, Night.  Like most of the amateur reviewers that I’ve read, I foolishly thought that this was a sequel to Night.  In my defense, I was inclined to believe this because I have a book identifying this as the 2nd in the Elie Wiesel trilogy – another story, The Accident follows Dawn.

I didn’t read any blurbs before diving into this book, which is another reason I was able to believe that it might focus on Wiesel’s life and personal experiences after the end of the Holocaust.  The title itself left me feeling that it might be lighter; that, possibly, something very good happened in his life after all of the evil that he experienced in his life.

Dawn, however, is very different.  First, it’s a fictional story about a young man named Elisha taking part in a resistance movement against the English in a fight for a free Jewish state.  But this isn’t where the main focus of the story lies.  Almost all of the 96 pages cover a night leading up to two executions, scheduled to take place at dawn.  The reader gets a glimpse into all of the thoughts, fears, and justifications that go through Elisha’s  mind.

This book is powerful.  Like Night, it contains passages bound to stick with me for life.  Wiesel’s books, unlike a lot of the other books that I have been reading lately, force me to stop and really think.  I love it and look forward to reading more of his work.

One of my favorite quotes from the book and one that, I feel, is imperative to always remember:

A man hates his enemy because he hates his own hate.  He says to himself: This fellow, my enemy, has made me capable of hate.  I hate him not because he’s my enemy, not because he hates me, but because he arouses me to hate.

Buy a copy of Dawn on Amazon.

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William Shakespeare: Sonnet 130


If you’ve ever studied literature, even in high school, you’ve been exposed to William Shakespeare.  In the high school that I attended, each student had to memorize a Shakespeare sonnet to recite during the first few weeks of school.  You see, our theater teacher was extremely enthusiastic about him and, therefore, we all had to be, as well.

I chose Sonnet 130 because I found it to be both hilarious and, in the end, somewhat sweet, even.  Thirteen year-old Megan was happy to see affections being felt for someone so seemingly physically unpleasant.  All of this, of course, is ignoring the fact that this is just a mistress and not his wife that he’s talking about.

Sonnet 130

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts be dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I had seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes are their more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

But a complete collection of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Poems on Amazon.

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Title:  Little Women
Author:  Louisa May Alcott
Length: 388 pages
Classic Favorite!

As a girl growing up in Massachusetts, of course I have read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I first read this book in 5th grade and revisited the tale many times throughout my life.  What is there not to love?  A family of sisters, growing up, discovering themselves, and discovering life.  As a ten year-old, I was fascinated to read about these girls beginning to like boys, struggling to fit in with girls of more affluent backgrounds, and how they enjoyed life, being each others’ best friends.

I don’t have a sister, but I’ve always had at least one close girl friend that I’ve always considered a sister of sorts.  And while the “sister” has changed depending on my age, school, or location, there has always been a part of me that thinks back to the March sisters putting on plays in their attic or singing songs together around the piano.  And while my friends and I haven’t done anything quite like that since I was about ten years-old, it’s the spirit, the love, and the comfort with each other that I treasure and can still liken to the sisters in the novel.

In addition to this being a great novel, it was also one of my favorite films growing up.  I wanted to be Jo (Winona Ryder) and had a huge crush on Laurie (Christian Bale).  I watched this movie over and over again, constantly yearning to go back in time and to live in this time period (only a few years after falling in love with Little Women, both the novel and film, I fell in love with Sense and Sensibility).  For me, this film is a childhood classic and one that I periodically revisit.  And each time that I do, I automatically experience the same excitement that I felt when I first saw it.

Soooo dreamy!

Additionally, growing up in Massachusetts, I am extremely lucky to live so close to Concord and Harvard, Massachusetts – two towns that are important for any Louisa May Alcott fan to visit.  In Concord, you can visit Orchard House – the house that the Alcott sisters grew up in.  I have been here about two to three times with plans to go back within the next month or so (weather permitting).  When you visit Orchard House, you get a tour – a very informative tour.  The guide walks you through the entire house, sharing tidbits about the personal lives of the family that lived there as well as pointing out parallels to scenes from the novels.

Orchard House - Concord, MA

In Harvard, you can visit the Fruitlands Museum, which is a beautiful stretch of land housing multiple points of interest – an Art Museum, a museum on Native American culture, a museum on Shaker culture, and another Alcott homestead , which is where the family lived during a brief period of time when Bronson Alcott brought the family to live in an experimental Utopian society.  It is actually at this house where the girls played in the attic and actually visiting here in person was like taking a walk into my childhood imagination.  It was wonderful.  While at the Fruitlands Museum, you will not only learn a lot, but you will be able to enjoy some really stunning views that are a good reminder of why Massachusetts is such a wonderful state.

Fruitlands Farm House - Learn more

If I read Little Women as a child, why write about it now?  Well, a friend of mine (who didn’t grow up in Massachusetts) just read this book for the first time and enjoyed it very much.  It’s always exciting for me when someone reads, and falls in love with, a book that I’ve also read and loved, no matter how far in my past it was that I first read it.  Or, perhaps, I’m just a big ol’ goober.  Entirely possible.

And, as an aside, I am a huge fan of homesteads!  I will visit any homestead out there, but it is definitely much more exciting when there is a literary tie-in, of course.

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