“The Valley of Unrest” by Edgar Allan Poe

Once it smiled a silent dell
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers,
In the midst of which all day
The red sun-light lazily lay.
Now each visitor shall confess
The sad valley’s restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless—
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees
That palpitate like the chill seas
Around the misty Hebrides!
Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven
That rustle through the unquiet Heaven
Uneasily, from morn till even,
Over the violets there that lie
In myriad types of the human eye—
Over the lilies there that wave
And weep above a nameless grave!
They wave:—from out their fragrant tops
External dews come down in drops.
They weep:—from off their delicate stems
Perennial tears descend in gems.

This poem reminds me very much of “The City in the Sea,” though far gentler and shorter. The opening suggests the inhabitants of this empty Valley got caught up in world affairs and left home, a kind of negligence (rather than the evil we find in the City). In his signature style, Poe ushers in the imagery of death, although it is not clear if there are any graves or ghosts—perhaps just a suggestion of them in the flowers that grow in the Valley.

I love how he expresses a sense of space and time in his use of words: wars, towers, trees, seas, and Heaven. A sense of looking up—and also far down. The emptiness conveyed is only rescued from City-like dystopia by the emphasis on beauty, even in sorrow, along with perpetual movement. There is life after death and loss; voids shall be filled by new growth. Still, those who remember the Valley as it was before keep a piece of the old life in their hearts.

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Poetry Reading: Dedication by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

From The Seaside and the Fireside. This is one of my favorite poems, although somewhat obscure. Longfellow seemed to have a special regard for his readers – one that also reflects how I feel about the online book community, which I have been a part of since 2009. Across time and space, we have shared our thoughts about the books we’ve read and authors we treasure. I’ve made many long-time friendships, and learned more than I could ever possibly have on my own. Thanks for sticking around… the voyage isn’t over yet. 🙂

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Kristin Lavransdatter – Current Thoughts, Current Events

I am nearly halfway through the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, currently reading Book 2, The Wife. This recounts the early years of Kristin’s marriage, including the fallout from Book 1. To say any more about the plot would be spoilers, so I’ll stop there.

So far, this book is proving to be far more satisfactory than the first one. I felt The Wreath (Book 1) was a bit too melodramatic, bordering on romance genre. The Wife brings the story down to earth, and we get to see the consequences of the characters’ earlier decisions. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s resolved all of my peeves about Book 1, it’s nonetheless a compelling, thought-provoking novel. I’ve found at least one new character I care about, which, if you know me, is critical for wanting to continue reading. 😉

Kristin has also added dimension to my musings on traditional vs. modern life, changing social structures, and all the topics that have lately reentered cultural conversation.

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On Reading Common Sense

Today I recorded part 3 of my Common Sense audiobook for YouTube. This one was nearly 50 minutes long 😮 so it will be a few days yet before I have actually edited and uploaded it.

I’m finding it very interesting thus far. Paine knew his audience and his format, and how to make his point several different ways (pathos, ethos, and logos—whew, I remember something from English 101).

Much of his argument for independence rests on religious reasons, which is rather ironic considering he was not particularly religious himself, at least not as much as you’d expect from the anonymous writer of this sermonesque pamphlet. For modern readers, this meta knowledge offers some additional insight on his writing technique, not to mention a few chuckles (and facepalms).

Overall, I have some reservations about many of Paine’s arguments, but still, it brings me a nostalgia for writers of the past—who even writes like this anymore? I’m also newly interested in the English history he references in his railing against the monarchy.

It’s worth noting Paine had only come to America in 1774, after experiencing serious financial and family losses in his native England. How much of his personal struggle was at the heart of the ire in Common Sense? One can only speculate, but I can’t help but wonder if there might be something there.

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Fanshawe – My First Hawthorne

Editor’s note: A unedited review from the vault—one of the few that’s aged reasonably well. Apparently I was Team Edward back then… no, not that Edward….


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I finished reading my first book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, yay!! 🙂

Fanshawe by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Harley College, circa 1748…pre-Revolution America. Two very different students—the amiable Edward Walcott and the studious Fanshawe—fall in love with Ellen Langton, the young lady who comes to stay with the president of the college, Doctor Melmoth, and his wife. But after Ellen meets a mysterious stranger, and when she is later found to be missing, both heroes set out through the countryside to find her, one ready to fight for her, the other ready to sacrifice his life to save her.

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