Wednesday, August 08, 2018

'Trouble Was Not What to Write But What to Read'

We fly today to Washington, D.C., and then drive to Annapolis, Md., where our son is close to completing his Plebe Summer at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was permitted to telephone us three times since Induction Day on June 28, and he wrote several letters. His summer has been a concentrated boot camp, with emphasis on physical and mental conditioning, and his academic year begins next week. Michael has settled on nuclear engineering as his likely major. All he asked us to bring from home for him was a stack of books. We can take him off-campus during the day but he has an evening curfew. Time and internet access will be in short supply while we travel, so I am posting in advance a week’s worth of poetry and prose I have enjoyed. That's the only criterion. The following is from The Bonaventure: Random Journal of an Atlantic Holiday (1922) by the English poet Edmund Blunden, based on a voyage he took on a coal boat from Wales to Buenos Aires after almost four years on the Western Front during the Great War:

“My trouble was not what to write but what to read. Even [Edward] Young’s Night Thoughts, buried in annotations reverent and irreverent, began to grow familiar beyond all reason. Pears’ Cyclop√¶dia, Brown’s Nautical Almanac, The South Indian Ocean Pilot, Phrenology for All, and other borrowed books, were all at much the same stage. This ship was not the one recently reported in the newspapers in which the chief read poetry like a passion, the cook chewed Froude with his morning crust, and the cabin-boy needed the help of Hegel. I forget if those were the actual claims, but in any case that was another ship. About now, an accident happened to my Young. It seemed as if a Poltergeist had visited the spare cabin port during the night, for awaking I found my settee, and the Night Thoughts thereon, waterlogged. Perhaps the heavy rain had been answerable for this, but I could not see how–my port was closed. Poltergeist had spared my novel, lying next to Young: evidently he thought that already watery enough. Young, immortal, made a surprising recovery.”

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