Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Duke Altum's Poetry Workshop (Poem of the Week #47)

Nothing like putting yourself out on a limb... well, for this week's Poem of the Week I've decided to try something different. The author of the poem featured is none other than yours truly. I'll pause politely to allow time for laughter...

...thank you. Seriously, by now it's no surprise to readers of this blog that I've got a deep interest in poetry, both as a reader and, in my more confident/foolish moments, a writer. I enjoy the process and the challenge of writing poetry -- whether or not I meet that challenge is something I am certainly not qualified, nor sufficiently objective, to judge. But it's almost besides the point. I say 'almost' because no one who writes poetry sets out to write bad poetry -- if one were to be satisfied with that, one has no business writing or expressing anything! And yet, I honestly don't find myself worrying about whether or not my poems reach an audience beyond myself and maybe a few of those I am close to. For me, at least in this stage in my life, the challenge of writing a few decent lines -- and the thrill that comes along with the suspicion that you might, just might, have actually done so -- is enough to keep me coming back to the pen and the paper (actually, the keyboard, if we're telling the truth... but somehow that doesn't sound as, well, poetic).

Whether I've done so or not with this poem, I can't say... but then that's one of the reasons why I wanted to post it. My idea here is to throw it up here as a "work in progress," much like Mutt's unedited novel excerpts (notice the glaring lack of quotes there Mutt!), and see if I can't elicit some free constructive feedback from TST's legion of faithful readers.

So without further ado or annoying commentary, here is the raw first draft of a new poem I've been composing in my head, and then on paper, for the last few days. It originates from a very tragic accident that occurred in a town just down the road from ours over the past weekend. I don't want to say anything more about it, by way of introduction, than that. With any luck, the poem itself will say what it has to say (although its subject is, by nature, pretty opaque!).

I invite comments, constructive criticism, questions or suggestions for improvement from whoever's interested...



The very properties of the ice
that failed to support the small boys,
whose combined final tally of years
barely stretched across two decades,
seem to apply to the arguments
claiming that the same God
Whose breath buffets the sparrow’s wing
wasn’t somehow looking away
when the younger brother
(ignoring his mother’s explicit warning)
stepped out onto the water’s beckoning surface
on that ashen afternoon.

Painfully brittle.
Shockingly cold.
Human reasoning, like pond ice,
shatters easily under the slightest pressure.

Whatever praises we might express
for the foolhardy bravery
of the older brother’s attempted rescue
are instantly numbed silent
as hope’s tenuous structure shatters
and the hyperborean flood of death
engulfs the heart, stopping it cold in mid-beat.

I have sons too, and I know
my faith in that same God
Whose breath buffets the sparrow’s wing
offers me, just as it offered
these precious boys’ hapless parents,
no blessed assurances
that the world’s ubiquitous sufferings
will spare them.
Yet their very presence scintillates
my life with miracle every day,
bearing witness to transcendent graces.
As surely the Robinson brothers' did
for those who knew and loved them --
whether it was acknowledged or
(God forbid)
realized only in hindsight,
in a winter morning’s awful clarity.

(For Jarris Robinson, age 8, who drowned on 2/11/07 in Cambridge, MD, after falling through thin ice on a pond -- and Aaron Robinson, age 12, who also drowned when he tried to rescue his brother. Recquiescat in pace Dei. And for their parents.)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 32

Teaser: Chapter 3, "A Secret Revealed, Letter from Texas"

What follows is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of the novel, in draft, unrevised format. Hope the reader enjoys!

Greta rose at six o’clock exactly, the alarm jarring her from a fitful sleep swollen with incoherent dreams, dark forms, unspoken fears. She glanced over at the rumpled bedclothes where her husband of five months had slept, rising at 5:15 or so and taking consideration not to wake her. Greta had heard him when he first pulled himself out of bed and hunted around for his things in the dark, but quickly fell back asleep. Having grown up in the house in relatively close quarters, she was accustomed to blotting out its noises until it was actually time for her day to begin.
The first thing she heard after the alarm’s bells saved her from her dreams’ fogginess – only to replace it with a physical fatigue – was the low growl of her father’s gravelly voice already expressing indignation over something to her mother. A sigh escaped from Greta’s lips. How many of her days had started out in a similar fashion? What would it take to make her father into a happy, satisfied person? She’d been asking herself this question for a long time, so there was no reason to think there might be an answer forthcoming. The only question to which there might be an answer was that of what he was railing about on this particular morning. It could have been any number of things – the financial status of his two businesses, The Golden Room and the new auto service station, for example. Or the election results from earlier in the week, which certainly troubled everyone in the house, with the possible exception of her younger sisters. But something about the tone of his voice even as it came up through the stairway and the framework of the house told her right away it was even more serious – serious enough to make those other considerations seem trivial.
She rose then, quickly, and without bothering to turn on the lamp on the bedside table – the eastern sky was lightening from black to a bruised gray, and Greta always preferred the use of whatever natural light was available. She pulled some clothing out from their dresser and a tiny closet, and padded into the bathroom. She washed her face, showered, and brushed her teeth with a firm sense of purpose, preparing herself ardently for a day she knew would require little of her. This was one of the numerous things in her new life that it was taking time to get used to: she was back in her parents’ home, and they ran it. Her mother, of course, had the maintenance of the daily routine firmly in hand. Greta was no longer supporting herself, she had no job, there were no children yet – in fact, she had no particular or specific function in terms of the domestic operation in which she found herself. Yet Greta Brogan was not one to lay around and remain idle. She began every day early, at 6 a.m., as though there was much to be done – she would make herself useful one way or another.
So this was how each day always began in the Heinricks household – her father ranting, holding court in his business suit with his coffee and sometimes his King James Bible as a prop if the matter was of a moral nature and he needed visual reinforcement. Her mother at work already, cooking, grinding coffee beans, washing dishes, clothes, meat, vegetables, anything. Things had almost always been like this – but not quite. Greta could remember a time – was haunted by it, in fact – before her family lived in this house, maybe even before her sisters were born, when they lived in the tiny, ramshackle farmhouse she was born in, and the tone of mornings was different. This would have been in 1906, 1907. She would wake up in her own room in her own bed, frequently shivering in the poorly-heated home and her threadbare blankets, but her ears would be met with a masculine voice accompanied by music. Her parents would be talking and laughing with one another most mornings, her mother preparing a breakfast, her father reading the newspaper, while in the background melodies by Liszt or Beethoven would drift throughout the house warmly from that old Victrola that Heinricks had bought one year for Ilse for Christmas. Greta would come down wrapped in her blanket to sit by the fire in that miniscule living room while her parents spoke to one another and her mother served biscuits with fresh preserves she had made herself …. they had so much less then, Greta seemed to recall, but seemed much more contented than they ever had been later, as her father’s business endeavors became more successful, demanding more and more of his time …. it was an ironic truth that Greta always held inside of herself afterwards.
Now Greta descended the creaking stairs to the kitchen as she heard the water pipes in the house creaking and moaning, indicating that her twin sisters were also beginning to rise. They were still in their last year at the high school, and had to be off by 7:30 at the latest. Greta walked in to find her mother and father both seated at the table with their hands touching cups of coffee, her father gazing out the window at some fixed location in the backyard, her mother looking at the floor. A familiar tension hovered in the room, lingering like a scent. Greta recognized this immediately: a matter of shared concern, but disparate opinions over how it should best be handled. On the table in front of her father was an envelope. She knew who it was from without being able to see the writing on it. Now she understood the tone in her father’s ranting voice earlier that had assaulted her ears as she rose to meet the morning.
‘Good morning,’ Greta said to her parents politely, attempting to partially temper the mood with conviviality and good manners.
‘Good morning, dear,’ said her mother, because that’s how one responded to such things. Her father turned his eyes towards his eldest, saying nothing. Greta saw the heat in them, knew what was coming, but she was ready for it. If one allowed him to, her father could scowl a morning into a fetal position in the corner before it ever got the chance to decide if it was going to be a pleasant day or not. God knew Greta had seen so many days in their house begin this way when she was younger, by virtue of the simple fact that her father was frustrated or angry about something. The trick was not to allow him to sabotage the mood of a day so completely and so early. The way to do it was to take his indignation – whatever the cause – in stride, casually, calmly. This helped put whatever was bothering him into some sort of perspective, and often he would react accordingly, whether he was conscious of it or not, by calming down. As a girl and a young teenager, Greta could not accomplish this herself, but after so many years of watching her mother do it, she learned the same skill, and by her early adulthood, much to her father’s annoyance, she had it down. It was useful enough, sometimes, with her own husband as well. It was one of the numerous ways a wise wife could rescue a whole day from the clutches of a husband’s nervousness or despair, simply by refusing to let a morning be derailed. And yet it was always the women whom the men called hysterical and emotionally unbalanced.
She met her father’s gaze momentarily, but for long enough to show him that she was prepared for whatever it was he might throw at her. She did not know if he was upset about the letter or if the very presence of it had brought him back to a subject that caused him embarrassment and pain. Greta glanced over at her mother again, who had her own eyes now fixated on her husband, waiting to hear whatever he was going to say.
No one said anything more, however, so Greta moved over to the counter and pulled down a white ceramic coffee mug from the cabinet. She picked up the carafe of coffee that her mother set out daily for them all and, moving towards her parents, offered to fill their cups first. Both refused silently: her father with a flash of his withered hand, her mother with a simple shake of the head. Greta returned to the counter and poured into her own cup, leaving some for her younger sisters. Everyone in their household loved coffee, especially the way Ilse made it.
Suddenly Heinricks broke the silence.
‘It’s for you.’
Greta turned and saw that he was holding out the envelope in her direction. It was sealed. She reached up after a moment and took it from him, and put it on the counter next to her.
‘You didn’t open it this time,’ she said evenly. The previous letter to arrive for her from Peter had reached her with its contents already scrutinized, several weeks before. It had led to extended arguments between father and daughter, with occasional intervention by Ilse to dampen the intensity of certain exchanges concerning the moral validity of someone – a father or not – reading someone else’s mail.
‘You can thank your husband for that,’ Heinricks answered, with no small degree of bitterness.
‘He told you not to?’ Greta asked him, surprised.
Heinricks drained his cup and stood, his eyes not moving from his daughter’s, the grooves in the aging skin around them seeing to deepen more from one moment to the next. Standing in front of one another, their eyes nearly met. Ilse watched them from her chair, marveling once again over the fact that her daughter had grown to more or less match her father’s height, rather than her own more diminished stance. Yet it was the way their respective wills, their passions, aligned – and therefore constantly collided – that was far more mysterious and, on certain occasions, jarring to Ilse Heinricks.
‘He found a way to express his point of view,’ he said. He stood before Greta for another moment, and his expression was something close to an accusation. Greta resented this: that he seemed to be ‘blaming’ her for the fact that Walter had expressed a point of view – and she doubted he had done so in a direct, offensive manner – that didn’t suit him. Furthermore, she thought, is he had tried to point out to her father that he shouldn’t open up the letter himself, not only was he not out of line, he was right. She said this much to her father.
After this she watched the familiar blaze flare up one again in the blue eyes that aligned so closely with her own.
‘I don’t much take to people who try to tell me how to run my family life in my own house,’ Heinricks intoned steadily, his tone its own warrant – not loud, only clear and cold. ‘Just as I don’t take to a son of mine not having the guts to tell me himself exactly what the devil he is doing with his life. I much prefer to confront problems directly. But you can damn well be sure that if my own son lacks the courage to keep me informed of his intentions, but can confide in his sister, I am going to find them out any way I can. I have a right to know.’
Greta listened to this, watching him, feeling the pressure of his indignation almost physically, like something or someone pushing on her shoulders. It was a familiar sensation. She thought for a moment, gripping the coffee cup with her slender hands, feeling its warmth.
Then she said, ‘Since you feel that way, why didn’t you open it?’
There was a long silence. Then her father simply said to her, ‘Just tell me what he is doing, if he has told you. Can you manage that?’ And with that, he strode out of the room. Within moments Greta and Ilse heard the front door open and slam shut.
The kitchen was now filled with the ashen light of the dreary morning, and the air seemed to have grown colder. Then twin voices of Greta’s younger sisters, prattling about something relevant only to seventeen-year-olds still in school, carried into the room from above. At any moment one or both of them would burst into the room in all of their quaint ignorance.
‘Heaven save us, but one of you is someday going to strangle the other.’
This was Ilse’s comment, sitting compactly in her chair, looking at her daughter as if she were someone she didn’t know.
Greta chuckled wryly. Some of the tension she had been feeling without realizing it seemed to ease slightly upon hearing her mother speak. But she still felt weight, pressure. Her father was a difficult man to make happy, and a difficult man to go up against in anything. She knew.
‘Walter was right, and he knows it.’
Ilse paused for a moment, and took one more glance out the back window. Greta saw the deep furrows around her eyes and forehead watched her rough, unfeminine hands grip one another on the surface of the table. They did not fidget. They simply lay in wait for whatever job the day would require of them next.
‘Of course he does,’ her mother said. Then she stood up and went to the counter next to her eldest child. Without speaking again she pulled a large iron skillet from one of the lower cabinets and placed it on the range. She turned the dial for the gas, lit the flame with a wooden match, and withdrew a side of bacon from the refrigerator while the iron surface gradually conducted the heat from the blue fire.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 31

Mutt's Output Taking a Beating

Looking at the blog history I can see it's been over two months now since I have posted in this journal. Unfortunately, right now I am having trouble keeping pace with not only the journal but with working on the novel itself at the level I hoped, but it's no surprise, and to some extent I expected to be working slowly right now. This is due to a series of rapid-fire changes of great magnitude in my personal life, including the departure from one full-time job, the initiation of another in another state, and the process of searching for a home. Later on, God willing, my family and I will have purchased said home and will be enduring the long and painful moving process, from New Jersey into Pennsylvania. All this adds up to a serious hiatus in any kind of steady effort on the novel I am attempting to write, and my main fear is losing momentum or not being able to recover my pace after all of these major life changes have taken place and are in the past. I am attempting to revisit the novel from time to time, either to work on the writing a little bit here and there or review portions that I have already written. Right now, I am working on the third chapter of the novel, which I originally thought was only part of the way completed in draft. But as I will explain below, I have been considering some structural changes that may make this chapter a shorter one, which means I may be able to get Chapter 3 done sooner and be able to move on to a fourth chapter.

Chapter 3 Almost Complete?

I began writing Chapter 3 in early Deceember of the immediate past year. I did manage to get a handful of 'scenes' completed before my progress hit a snag, or a series of snags, mentioned above. Somewhere I may have mentioned an early tentative title for the chapter, but I think it has changed since then, and I can now reveal with relative certainty, at least for the moment, that the chapter's title is "A Secret Revealed, Letter from Texas". My early plan for the chapter was to fit in many major sequences that carried on the storyline on several fronts. But as I worked on the first few scenes, it started to dawn on me that I was possibly trying to cram too much into one chapter and that I might need to break up what I had originally envisioned for chapter 3 into Chapters 3 and 4. The downside to that approach is that because there is a lot I want to write about in these chapters, enough to divide them into two, the story will remain fixed around the first half of the 1920s for two more chapters before moving ahead in time to 1927 or so, probably in Chapter 5. My concern is that I want to make my way eventually through not only the rest of the 1920s, but also the 1930s and early 40s before the novel is done, and I don't want to take too much time getting there. Also I don't want the story to seem 'bunched up' in the 20s to begin with, only to give the appearance of impatience later on by rushing through the subsequent years more rapidly. Nonetheless, I do feel that there are important scenes and ideas that I want to flesh out at this stage that will require more than one chapter. Hence the decision to split Chapter 3 into Chapters 3 and 4. I don't know if any of this makes sense to anyone else, but it does to me.

Hints on Chapter 3 and Even More Nebulous Hints on Chapter 4

What will happen in Chapters 3 and 4? I can give a better picture of Chapter 3 right now, obviously, but I don't want to give too much away. And Chapter 4 is sort of loosely forming in my mind but would be subject to a lot of changes as I begin writing it later on. Having said all that, here are some hints on what will go down in the story. In Chapter 3 we are brought forward to November 1924, immediately after the presidential election and also the gubernatorial election in Indiana. In a frightening development, the Ku Klux Klan's hand-picked candidate, Edward Jackson, has won the governor's seat. The Klan is at the height of its power in Indiana and many other places. Walter Brogan feels increased internal pressure to do something or tell someone about his personal encounter with the Klan on his wedding night as revealed in Chapter 1. Then an instrusion at his workplace of a more subtle nature compels him into revealing his secret for the first time, but to a party the reader might not necessarily expect. A new character is introduced here. Meanwhile, the Heinricks family is dealing with the startling revelation that their son/brother Peter has taken himself off the career path his father has envisioned and is pursuing a risky career opportunity in the Texas oil fields. This is the area of Texas that later on will become what was known as 'The Black Giant".

In Chapter 4, Walter Brogan, having confided his story to a trusted party, begins to contemplate cources of action. Greta Brogan adjusts more to life back under her parents' roof and will have a run-in with her old suitor turned lawyer, Myron Devreaux, who is trying to position himself for a grab for political power at a young age. Finally, we will see Walter Brogan consult his father-in-law for advice on the whole Klan matter, and the counsel he receives will be something of a surprise to him and, perhaps, to the reader.

All will be revealed as the story progresses - unfortunately, that progress will probably continue to be hampered by the instrusions of 'real life' - but I am determined to keep the novel alive and moving forward, however slowly. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Literaturubersicht (or, Some Thoughts on German Literature from a Totally Unqualified, but Interested, Consumer)

Literaturubersicht means "literature survey" in German. And yes, I did have to look it up.

What the heck is this post all about? It's simple really. It just so happens (if you look at the right hand column, you'll see) that, as sheer chance would have it, Mutt and I both happen to be reading novels from German writers at the same time. (For the record, some may think that we consult each other first about what we're reading, or try to synchronize it somehow... and though we are definitely book-dorks enough to do that, we usually don't. Each of us are on our own separate reading trajectories, and rarely if ever consciously try to have them intersect. Occasionally it does happen on its own though, obviously.) Anyway, we got to talking about German writers -- which ones are important to read for anyone interesting in world literature, what they might be getting at, what the common themes are, etc. -- and I thought it might make an interesting topic for a post, even though I (as my title indicates) have actually not read much of it.

The most famous and celebrated German writer of our time is unquestionably the Nobel laureate Gunter Grass. Mutt is reading one of his lesser-known novels right now, Local Anaesthetic. I'll let him comment on that particular book if he'd like to, maybe in response to this post or in his own posting. But it sounds on a general level like another surreal-type novel in which Grass uses symbolism and fantasy to explore the political and cultural confusion in post-Nazi Germany. Mutt and I have talked about Grass' work before, after I picked up a used copof his short novel The Meeting at Telgte for him and he promptly burned through it. I think way back when this blog first started he posted about it, if memory serves. And since we're both very interesting in world literature in general and the work of Nobel laureates in particular, we've also talked about a few more books of his, most notably the novel he is most famous for, The Tin Drum. I have both of these books on my shelves and plan to read them at some point before I exit the stage...

But for my own right, I thought it might be interesting, before reading Grass, to go back and read some of the significant works of German literature from earlier periods, in part so that I would know something of the books that must have had at least some influence on the great Nobel laureate's body of work. I've explored literature from other countries and cultures before, but curiously, not the German one. I say "curiously" because I myself am half-German, and while I've read plenty of literature and other writing from Ireland (the other half), I know almost nothing about German creative writing. This seems like sort of a gaping and conspicuous hole in my own reading, and it's one I aim to patch up. As part of that effort, I decided to try my hand at another German Nobel laureate, Thomas Mann, and am currently working my way through one of his recognized masterpieces (he has a few of them, depending on who you ask!), The Magic Mountain.

A few years ago I read a book that was about educating oneself through the reading of classics (for the record, the book was Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind). One of the points Wise Bauer made in that book, that has stayed with me ever since, was the importance of reading chronologically. In other words, she thinks that, if you want to read the classics in order to educate yourself, it's best to start with the ancient writers, such as the Greek and Roman playwrights and poets, and work your way up the timeline. The reason for this is pretty simple and makes a lot of sense: picking up on a theme she learned from the noted literary critic Mortimer Adler, Wise Bauer points out that all truly great writers are aware of the literary tradition that precedes them, and in most cases they are reacting in some way to it, or are conscious of it enough to allude to it directly and indirectly in their own work. And you can't fully understand a work of a writer unless you know something of the work that inspired him, or her. Anyone can read and get a lot out of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, but imagine how much more informed one's reading of it would be if they were at least somewhat familiar with the writings of his own literary hero (both within and outside of the epic poem!), Virgil? For one obvious thing, it might clear up that nagging question that most modern readers are confronted with from pretty much the second canto on: why is Virgil his guide? Anyway, this is a digression... but the point is, reading the classics is in some sense, or should be (according to this view), a cumulative enterprise -- each period's work informs the next, even as it comments on the previous one.

Now I don't think most people have the time or inclination to adhere to such a rigorous programme strictly (unless they're in some kind of formal classics program or something), and I know I certainly don't... in one sense it takes the fun out of "reading all over the map," a favorite pastime of Mutt's and mine... but the concept has stayed with me, and I have found myself trying to go back and read some of the earlier works first, or, if I know I'm interested in reading a MAJOR classic and want to understand it better, I might go and read some of the books that might have influenced its author first. Case in point: one of the reasons I wanted to read Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is that I know it was an important work for, and was very much in the mind of, Cervantes during the composition of Don Quixote de la Mancha (which of course in itself is a hugely influencial work... see the accumulation?).

It may seem like I'm veering way off-topic here, but stay with me... this is the thinking that, in part, went into my picking up Mann's weighty philosophical novel. (Another reason, again speaking of writers influencing writers influencing readers, is that I knew it was a favorite book of Walker Percy's, who is in turn a favorite of mine... whew! this gets you dizzy after a while...) I knew I was interested in reading Grass, and also the work of another modern German writer and Nobel Prize-winner (Heinrich Boll), but I just felt I had no real understanding at all of, for the lack of a better way to put it, the German literary soul.

So it gets me to thinking, what are some of the other indispensable works of German literature that any halfway-serious student of world literature could not avoid reading? A few obvious choices jumped into my mind at this question, but only a scant few: the works of Goethe (most notably Faust, but also The Sorrows of Young Werther and maybe some of his poetry as well), Thomas Mann of course, the famous playwright Berthold Brecht, and of course everyone's favorite God-denying, half-insane intellectual, Frederich Nietzche. Around the time I started thinking about this, Mutt had lent me an issue of The New Yorker, and in it there was an article by the noted Czech writer Milan Kundera in which he, in speaking of world literature, points out that Franz Kafka identified himself also as a German writer, even though he was from another country altogether (obviously he wrote in the German tongue). I thought that was an interesting bit of information, but it also struck me how knowing that would have to color and shape one's understanding of Kafka's mysterious and magnificent work.

After thinking about it a little more, I realized that there were other German works and writers that would seem to be indispensable in any survey of the literary works emerging from that culture. Hermann Hesse would have to be added to the list, although I think (I haven't confirmed it) that he was of Swiss origin... but certainly books like Siddhartha and Steppenwolf have to be considered modern classics of the German language. And then there are the philosophers (yes, Nietzche ought to be in this category too, but some of his works border on philosophic literature -- Thus Spake Zarathustra, for example, or even Ecce Homo, his memoir-of-sorts) -- Germany is so well-known for its philosophical, analytical mind that it would be virtually impossible to exclude the writings of the Schopenhauer, Kant and Heidegger, among others. (I know for a fact that Mann's writings were profoundly influenced by the philosophy of Schopenhauer.)

And of course, there is one other towering giant of German literature, someone whose shadow looms hugely and profoundly over the landscape of modern poetry: Rainer Maria Rilke. Other than maybe Goethe, I think one would be hard-pressed to name a better candidate for the title of "greatest German poet." Forget "German" -- I think Rilke is among the greatest poets the world has ever produced!

I would love to one day be able to say that I have read at least something from every one of these authors mentioned... to do so would be to gain some kind of knowledge of German literary culture, which, when you look at the big picture, is among the most profound and creative humankind has produced. It would also, possibly, help me to understand something about my own soul/heritage!

Mutt and I were reflecting on the interesting fact that each culture seems to have something unique and fascinating to contribute to world literature, and that while of course themes repeat and overlap, there is a certain spirit and mood in, say, Icelandic or Russian or African literature that you simply will not find elsewhere. And each culture is wrestling with its own particular demons (Mutt knows, mostly through reading Grass, something about Germany's ghosts and goblins!), which is fascinating also. I think about how my life and my knowledge/awareness of the range and scope of human experience (so much greater than the limited scope of my own will ever be) would be enhanced and enriched through the literature of foreign cultures, and it makes me want to plunder the Alexandrian library of the world, and partake of its riches before they too blow away as ashes in the wind.