Month: July 2016

Book Review: The New House

cooper

I’d been aware of Lettice Cooper’s novel The New House for years before I read it this month. The premise — a whole book about one day, a moving day –is intriguing, if you’re at all interested in houses, minutiae, and time. One thing that tempered my interest in the book was a description I’d read of the author as a Socialist and Freudian. Another thing that kept me from reading it so long was the price. But I found a copy for $1.50 at a barn sale earlier this month. And so I’ve finally read it.

First of all, the socialism. It is there, all right, and we get to watch several of the characters thinking about it. But Lettice Cooper the novelist is ultimately wiser than Lettice Cooper the socialist. And the book is ultimately too philosophical to be a political tract. We see a world in which tradition has been seemingly cut off from the sources of tradition and degraded to mere convention. In such a world, socialism possesses an attraction. One of the characters realizes at one point that socialist ideology gains force as belief in perfect justice in the next life wanes. Throughout the book, the thirst of the characters for the transcendent is palpable. The honesty of inquiry startles.

Second, the book is astonishingly acute as an expose of feminine vices: manipulation, pusillanimity, people-pleasing, imposing one’s own anxieties on others. It looks at the ways that people (“the members of one’s own family and household”) enslave each other and choose slavery for themselves. The concept of liberation is deeply examined. One character goes so far as to identify liberty and equality as opposing ideals.

Third, if you are interested in minutiae (or, for that matter, houses or time) you will find much in these pages to occupy and delight. I smiled inside every time the cats made an appearance because of how sharply they were observed. There are many layers of reality here and they are all unfolded with poignant clarity.

Mrs. Aldertree

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Linnaeus

He was born in 1707 at 1:00 a.m. on May 23rd,
When spring was in beautiful bloom, and cuckoo
had just announced the coming of summer
From Linnaeus’ s biography

Green young leaves. A cuckoo. Echo.
To get up at four in the morning, to run to the river
Which steams, smooth under the rising sun.
A gate is open, horses are running,
Swallows dart, fish splash. And did we not begin with an
overabundance
Of glitterings and calls, pursuits and trills?
We lived every day in hymn, in rapture,
Not finding words, just feeling it is too much.

He was one of us, happy in our childhood.
He would set out with his botanic box
To gather and to name, like Adam in the garden
Who did not finish his task, expelled too early.
Nature has been waiting for names ever since:
On the meadows near Uppsala, whit, at dusk
Platanthera is fragrant, he called it biofolia.
Turdus 
sings in a spruce thicket, but is it musicus?
That must remain the subject of dispute.
And the botanist laughed at a little perky bird
For ever Troglodytes troglodytes L.

He arranged three kingdoms into a system.
Animale. Vegetale. Minerale.
He divided: classes, orders, genuses, species.
“How manifold are Thy works, O Jehovah!”
He would sing with the psamlist. Rank, number, symmetry
Are everywhere, praised with a clavecin
And violin, scanned in Latin Hexameter.

We have since had the language of marvel: atlases
A tulip with its dark, mysterious inside,
Anemones of Lapland, a water lily, an iris
Faithfully portrayed by a scrupulous brush.
And a bird in foliage, russet and dark blue,
Never flies off, retained
One the page with an ornate double inscription.

We were grateful to him. In the evenings at home
We contemplated colors under a kerosene lamp
With green shade. And what there, on earth,
Was unattainable, over much, passing away, perishing,
Here we could love, safe from loss.

May his household, orangery, the garden
In which he grew plants from overseas
Be blessed with peace and well-being.
To China and Japan. America, Australia,
Sailing-ships carried his disciples;
They would bring back gifts: seeds and drawings.
And I, who in this bitter age deprived of harmony
An a wanderer and a gatherer of visible forms,
Envying them, bring to him my tribute-
A verse imitating the classical ode.

-Milosz

Nature Study With Milosz

I remember my first encounters with particular birds. For example, the golden oriole seemed like an absolute miracle to me, with its unity of color and its flute like voice. And it was precisely birds, it seems, that I looked for in nature books as soon as I learned to read – books that would soon become my cult objects.

from Milosz’s ABC

Well, my great hero was Linnaeus; I loved the idea that he had invented a system for naming creatures, that he had captured nature that way. My wonder at nature was in large part a fascination with names and naming. . . Eventually I turned away from Darwinism because of its cruelty, though at first I embraced it. Nature is much more beautiful in painting, in my opinion.

– Milosz, Paris Review Interview 

In keeping a nature journal, we do both: naming and painting (or drawing). Through the mediation of painting, we have a deeper encounter with beauty. Through the identification by name of the things we see around us, we begin to perceive and intuit order within the jumble that meets our senses. The nature journal may be essentially more poetic than scientific. But Milosz implies in one of his interviews that poetic truth is a higher good than the knowledge aimed at by modern science.

In a 1991 poem, Milosz pays tribute to Linneaus, who rejoices to pick up the task of naming the creatures where Adam left off. Milosz sees this work of naming as a great accomplishment of the human race: a liberal art. He associates the classification of natural phenomena with the singing of Psalms: “How manifold are thy works, O Jehovah!”

In the poem, Milosz invokes clavecin and violin, Latin hexameter. Nature paintings, atlases, like colorful lexicons give us a “language of marvel.” The world manifested in nature paintings is deeply related here to the worlds of music, poetry, the Classical languages.

In particular to Latin. If Latin is the eternal language of the Church, it is also the language in which the creatures find their official Adam-bestowed names. When we make our own nature sketches, we engage in a spiritual exercise: doing for ourselves, as we must, what greater than us have done far better. Our souls grow, with a combination of humility and audacity. When we make our nature sketches, it might be fruitful to label them with both their local, vernacular name and their full multi-part Latin title of nobility. These old names. . . are like prayers.

– Mrs. Aldertree

Spiritual Reading for Young Children

 

The Song of Three Holy Children Illustrated by Pauline Baynes: 

holy

Renowned artist Pauling Baynes, Who is well known for illustrating the Narnia Books and The Hobbit also  illustrated The Song of the Three Holy Children from the book of Daniel. It is a beautiful book, thoughtful and meditative. The song, “O ye Heavens, bless ye the Lord; praise him, and magnify him for ever.”rings out again and again yet each time it seems anew as the text and illuminations inform each other page after page. The illustrations are intricate and the book has a rather serious tone to it that children appreciate.

Small Rain Selected by Jesse Jones and illustrated by Elizabeth Jones 

small

Small Rain is a book of traditional prayers and selected verses from The inestimable King James Bible. The verses are beautiful, the language is high yet the  illustrations are cutesy. The combination works surprisingly well.

Manner’s in God House and My First Missal

Manners in God’s House is a classic. It explains the concept of reverence and its importance in God’s house. It also gives concrete examples of reverence, rules that we should emulate when visiting Christ our King. It is a simple book  instructive but not too preachy. The illustrations are endearing and well done. My First Missal is the second part of the book. It is a Traditional Missal for the Extraordinary Form. It illustrates each stage of the Mass and explains what is happening, comparing the Mass with parts of Scripture. My children love this book and it is in their little “Church Bag” every Sunday.

-Mrs. Cooper

The Drama of Decluttering Books

Any book lover will agree, books are hard to part with. We have a certain attachment to unread books, read books, half- read books, beloved books, good books, okay books, books that have that amazing paragraph, chapter, sentence, books that speak to us not so much in perfect prose but in the dovetailed ideas presented within its bindings.

I recently read an insightful article on Kon Marie and The Heartbreaking Difficulty of Getting Rid of Books much of it resonated with me. It delved into the heart of the problem of simplifying a library:

“A book can wait a thousand years unread until the right reader comes along,” said the critic George Steiner, and that’s true. The good ones are incantations, summoning spells. They are a spark, a balm, a letter from home. They contain demons, gods in a box. They are tiny rectangles with the whole universe packed in.

It is so difficult to part with these bound pieces of paper because they are more than just paper, they are microcosms! Each book seems a literary miracle to us. That it should ruminate in the maker’s mind for years, be written down, revised, edited, printed, (if lucky enough) published  and then finally somehow find its way, through who knows how many hands- to us! No wonder decluttering books is a painful process!

But it is necessary. Books maybe be microcosms, incantations, but gathered together they build a whole, a library. Such a living organism needs to be reevaluated from time to time, aired out to avoid stagnation (Otherwise it would be just another hoard and we book lovers selfish dragons.)

As a mother, I assess my children’s library often, is it meeting their needs? Have they outgrown the books? Do we need to replace or repair beloved but tattered titles? Are they being fed quality? Are there gaps in the collection?  (Spiritual reading should not be overlooked, even – especially in a children’s library. I find that this is too often the case.) Children grow quickly! Their minds and needs change, are we keeping up?

I also need to discern my needs and my own library. Am I inspired, comforted, and informed by what’s on my shelf? Or are there dead spaces? books that once spoke to me but I no longer have a need for? Are there books that never spoke to me but I keep out of mere pretense? old textbooks? We will always have our favorites and there is no need to let those go. And it is always nice knowing that there are books on shelf for when the time comes. However, there is nothing like a thoughtful library, curated to truly meet our needs for today. This is what we should ensure.

Much like a garden,  libraries need to be cultivated,  trimmed in some areas so that the whole can flourish. Deadheading is the term gardeners use. The simple technique of pinching off old weathered blooms to make room for new ones. It makes all the difference to a rose bush. It makes all the difference to a library. Yet we will  encounter the same problem as the gardener: should I trim this autumnal bloom? Just past its prime? or leave it for another day? It is still blooming though petals bruised and dogeared. It is up to us to determine when the book should move on. But rest assured, after all the work of sorting and letting go of books, it is exhilarating to find empty shelf space, room, glorious room! For those books that have been calling our name. Who knows? They could be life-changing.

-Mrs. Cooper