Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Fragile Things - group read

Sunday saw the end of the first week of the Fragile Things read along. For a variety of reasons I couldn't post that day, and it's taken until today to have the necessary combination of time and an internet connection - I'll do better next week! But here is my brief contribution, for what it's worth.

'The Fairy Reel' - not much of a poem, says Neil Gaiman, but  I think it's better than he allows himself credit for, because it has  such a wistful, yearning quality - it reminded me of the line from 'The Vicar of Bray', "and this the burden of my song" - burden actually meaning only chorus, but here it's a real burden, a heavy heart, or perhaps, a heavy absence of heart. It carries, too, the haunting tone of my long-favourite fairy poem, Keats's 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci'. You can imagine the subject of this poem "alone and palely loitering", in thrall to a wild-eyed elfin love, and the recurring heartstrings/violin strings theme is very strong. Those long lines are effective, too, conveying a sense of relentless and unproductive motion, only broken in the last line, where the caesura signifies the cessation of movement, and release.

There was one line I pondered over at some length:
Until one day she'd tire of it, all bored with it and done with it
I felt that "bored with it" was too modern an expression, and wondered how I would choose to re-word it - but I can't. And the more I think about it, the less I really want to...perhaps because "bored with it and done with it" has a feeling of capriciousness entirely appropriate, somehow foreshadowing "long and cruel and thin" in a way I can't really articulate, except for noticing - somewhat tenuously - the assonant linking of the "o" sound, which runs through the intervening lines.

This all made me remember, as I brooded on it, of how years ago I had an argument about the usefulness of literary criticism with a friend  - he'd given it up favour of history, I was studying it at the time and struggling slightly to justify the study of a subject solely because it gave me pleasure (I too gave it up, in favour of philosophy, which some would argue was even more useless). Anyway, one of my gripes with lit crit was that the only way, really, to describe a poem is by the poem itself, which says exactly what the author means to say, and Gaiman makes this point precisely and elegantly in his tale 'The Mapmaker', which he tells in the introduction to Fragile Things, and which Carl made a particular point of encouraging us to read.

We read two other stories this week, and I don't really have time to discuss them here, except to say that the Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu cross-over works a treat, and that I loved October in the Chair all the more for having read The Graveyard Book  since I first picked up my copy of Fragile Things. Carl talks about all of this week's reading very perceptively on Stainless Steel Droppings and I really can't add anything more, though I would like to second him when he urges us not to read too briskly through the collection, but to savour the stories at leisure.

1 comment:

  1. I have to keep reminding myself of my own words, to savour the stories, LOL! I have done well of late though. I went through the next 4 stories pretty quickly but then stopped and now I'm going back and pondering these last 4 and will try to write up my thoughts before partaking of the next tale.

    Love your thoughts on The Fairy Reel. And isn't 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' wonderful? Have you seen the film Bright Star? I just loved it and especially enjoyed hearing the actor recite the poetry. I read the book soon afterwards, reveling in the glory of Keats' poems. I'm not a huge "fan" of poetry, but when I find stuff I like I am really excited about it.

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