Featured Poem: The Sun Rising

Today’s featured poem is John Donne’s ‘The Sun Rising’, which really needs no introduction other than to say that on a grey autumn day Donne’s poem, like love, is a better match for the rags of time than the heat of summer.

The Sun Rising

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen, that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams, so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

She’s all states, and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic; all wealth alchemy.
Thou sun art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.

Featured Anthology: Oxford Poets 2007

In a new feature at The Reader Online, we’re going to be featuring a recently published poetry anthology, bringing you some of the best contemporary poetic writing over a week each month.

The first of our featured anthologies is Oxford Poets 2007: An Anthology (eds. David Constantine and Bernard O’Donoghue), which includes work by Jemma Borg, Hugh Dunkerley, Grace Ingoldby, Olivia McCannon, Jo Roach, Damian Walford Davis, Lynne Wycherley and many others. From Monday, we will reproduce a poem from this collection each day (with thanks to the publisher Carcanet), plus some information about the poet and a few thoughts about the day’s poem from us in The Reader office.

Posted by Jen Tomkins. Powered by Qumana

Links We Liked for October 16, 2007

Blasphemy Confirmed. January Magazine has posted video evidence of Doris Lessing’s stylish reaction to hearing the news, from reporters, that she had won the Nobel Prize. How did Liam Gallagher react to hearing he had joined Oscar Wilde in a list of the top ten wits I wonder?

Something Wicked. Sometime genre writer Ursula K. Le Guin responded with a clever vignette to a review of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union in which Ruth Franklin called genre writing a ‘decaying corpse’ abandoned in a shallow grave by ‘writers of serious literature’. She later took Cory Doctorow to task for republishing her piece without permission.

I’ve changed my dance. The Serial Comma has a lovely brief post on overheard dialogue that highlights the problem writers have in representing speech, but also illustrates the extent to which we are all talking to ourselves. Dangerous territory for bloggers. Here’s the link.

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana

Who Reads Doris Lessing?

In the few days since Doris Lessing was announced as the 2007 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, book talk in Britain has been torn between the ‘Is Martin Amis a Racist?’ question and the ‘Doris Lessing? Is she still alive?’ pub debate controversy. Lessing is said to have exclaimed ‘Oh Christ!’ when she heard the news of the win and was rather insensitively doorstepped by journalists on Friday. Perhaps the best single piece on Lessing and her influence was in the Observer, where Robert McCrum explains why Lessing is a long overdue winner:

Forget Philip Roth, Claudio Magris and Milan Kundera, all of whom have been tipped often. Forget, too, that obscure Szechuan storyteller with the unpronounceable name published by Serpent’s Tail or the Hayseed Press. Here is a great contemporary woman novelist and London intellectual who has dedicated her long life and impressive body of work to the tireless and unflinching exploration of man’s (and woman’s) place in the world, together with issues of race, gender and social justice. This prize finally acknowledges what has been true for at least 40 years: that she is one of the most important literary voices of her generation.

The feature in the Observer includes commentary on Lessing by several writers and fans, including our very own Jane Davis.

Tom Sperlinger, whose 2005 interview with Lessing appeared in The Reader magazine and which you can read here, sent me this piece in response to the news:

In a recent introduction to D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Doris Lessing recalls once giving a lift to a young solider ‘in an unusual state of mind’. He ‘could not stop talking’, she writes, ‘he was in love’. During the journey, he pulled out a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and said that ‘he had never read anything like it, well, he wasn’t really a reader, actually this was the only book he had ever read. But he had read it several times, and kept finding new things in it.’

‘Surely,’ Lessing writes, ‘this youth, who was soon going to be married, was Lawrence’s ideal reader’.

Who is the ideal reader of one of Lessing’s novels? Maybe a teenager, or young man or woman; someone in an unusual state of mind, perhaps in love. She certainly appeals to some who do not otherwise think of themselves as readers.

Who does read Lessing?

This question has occurred to me frequently over the past few years, because there is no other author whom I have recommended with such mixed results. I am only just back on speaking terms with the members of my mother’s book group, all of whom hated Love, Again.

In other cases her books have been a revelation or a surprise. I gave Mara and Dann, an adventure story set after another ice age, to a friend, R, who teaches literature at a university. Though he received the gift politely, he couldn’t disguise his skepticism. A few weeks later he sent me a text saying ‘Mara seems more prescient every day’. This was the summer of 2005, around the time of the floods in New Orleans. ‘Don’t tell me how it ends,’ he pleaded.

I lent The Good Terrorist to my housemate J, a beautifully undisciplined reader, who never keeps a book after he has finished it. He said it was the best book he had read in years, and talked unguardedly about his own memories of living in a squat and getting in trouble with the police. Two other housemates, A and A, all-but fought over who would be the first to read On Cats. The winner carried it about with her for days and, soon after, bought a kitten. We considered naming him after Lessing’s El Magnifico and still think of him as our Lessing cat.

I plucked up the courage to teach Lessing last year, on an MA course on women’s writing. To my surprise, almost all of the students loved The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five. ‘Does it remind you of anything else you’ve read?’ I asked them, towards the end of the seminar. One said: ‘I’ve never read anything like this.’

It’s a wonderful thought that after yesterday’s announcement many new readers will find Lessing’s works for the first time.

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana

Featured Poem: Ode to the West Wind

Autumn is making its presence felt: the leaves are turning, the nights are drawing in and the temperature is dropping. British seasons are inspiring for their physical changing of our surroundings – the beautiful firey colours of the leaves in autumn, the fresh green buds of spring – they are an inspiration for writers presenting a message . Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind presents the autumnal wind as a spiritual presence, spreading the word of change and regeneration. The first three cantos of this poem are about the qualities possessed by the ‘wind’, the last two focus on the speaker (or hearer) and present the relationship between the spirit of reform and the impact on the man.



O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!


Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge
Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!


Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull’d by the coil of his crystàlline streams,
Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,
All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers
Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh hear!


If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem’d a vision; I would ne’er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.


Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?



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Links We Liked for 9 October 2007

While we were deciding what to do about National Poetry Day on The Reader Online I was pointed at a new-ish site called Pass On A Poem which aims to promote poetry readings and encourage people to read poetry aloud. From the blurb:

a not-for-profit initiative to provide entertainment and to create enthusiasm for poetry by bringing people together to read out loud poems which have a special personal significance and to explain, briefly, why.

Professor of English, writer, and now blogger Philip Davis has been busy over at More Intelligent Life and his latest post on New York, email, blogging, and blondes called Philippa may well be his best yet.

Davis’s biography of Bernard Malamud appears at a time when Philip Roth is promoting (and how) his latest novel, Exit Ghost. Malamud of course was once part of a Jewish literary triumvirate that included Saul Bellow and Roth; the title of Roth’s latest seems even more appropriate in the context of that strained metaphor. As it usually does the New Yorker get’s to the nub of the matter. James Wood begins his review:

Before his death, Jonathan Swift pointed to a blighted tree and said to a friend, “I shall be like that tree; I shall die first at the top.” Philip Roth’s dying animals, at loose in the twilit carnival of his late work, reverse Swift’s prophecy: they fear they will die from the bottom up. Their minds are ripe with sexual energy, with transgressive vitality, but their bodies are sour with decline.

October is of course Black History Month and it seemed appropriate to post this video promoting reading. Things like this often smell a little inauthentic, but this seems properly felt. Still, as an almost-40 white English bloke, what do I know? The images accompanying the rap lyrics are more affecting anyway than the animated film that sometimes go with it. But here’s a warning: this contains ‘bad language’ from the start. If you are easily offended or you’re sitting behind a PC on the front counter of a bank, you probably won’t want to click ‘Play’, but then you know your boss better than I do:


Posted by Chris Routledge


Featured Poem: The Dream

Today is National Poetry Day and this year its focus is dreams, a subject that poets (and readers alike) are continually beguiled by. When we enter sleep, we enter an entirely new world, one that is filled with dreams carrying their own pleasure and pain. In Part One of ‘The Dream’, Byron separates our lives into waking and dreaming worlds, explicating how dreams render their own reality, through power of vision and intensity of thought. Yet equally pertinent is the amalgamation of the two: how dreams borrow from our conscious thought and how we, in turn, bring essences of our dreams into our waking world.

From The Dream

Our life is twofold: Sleep hath its own world,
A boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality,
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of Joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight from off our waking toils,
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of Eternity;
They pass like spirits of the past,—they speak
Like Sibyls of the future; they have power—
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
They make us what we were not—what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows—Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow?—What are they?
Creations of the mind?—The mind can make
Substance, and people planets of its own
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.
I would recall a vision which I dreamed
Perchance in sleep—for in itself a thought,
A slumbering thought, is capable of years,
And curdles a long life into one hour.


Posted by Jen Tomkins

Links We Liked for 21 September 2007

Here are some of our favourite articles and links from across the web in the last week or two:

A quick mention for The Library Project and the book swap taking place at mello mello on Slater Street Liverpool today from 7pm to 9pm.

Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself spending more time reading and researching online, using ‘gated’ services such as JStor but also the excellent Google Books and Google Scholar as well as online newspapers, library catalogues and other sources. One of the problems with that is keeping track of the material. This week I came across Zotero, an addon for the Firefox web browser which not only allows you to store material for reading later but will generate bibliographies, link between research materials and even link with documents elsewhere on your computer. I’m going to be reviewing Zotero over the next few weeks, but in the mean time here’s the link to the website. I recommend taking a look at the tour. You will need to be using Firefox, but but Zotero runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows computers.

I’ve been a fan of Clive James ever since I stumbled across his essay on Raymond Chandler, ‘The Country Behind the Hill’ in the school library circa. 1981. The Times Literary Supplement has a review of his most recent collection of essays Cultural Amnesia that sums up James for me. Despite his broad brush strokes, which can be so frustrating, James, in the words of reviewer Adam Bresnick is an ‘excellent, passionate reader’.

On the subject of detective fiction this week saw a flurry of reviews of Andrew Lycett’s biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This review by Philip Hoare in the Telegraph highlights the paradoxes of Conan Doyle: his creation of an archetypal rational detective versus his spiritualism; his sympathies for groups opposed to Jewish immigration from Germany before World War 1 and for humanitarian causes. It is also a little sniffy:

Holmes was also a Bohemian drug addict and melancholic who sometimes resembles an invention of Oscar Wilde. Indeed, in another of his telling anecdotes, Lycett describes how it was shortly after meeting Wilde that Conan Doyle wrote The Sign of Four – his second Holmes adventure, with its own specifically Wildean character – whilst Wilde went off and wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray.

And finally The Guardian is today running an article on writers’ rooms that is well worth a look, if only to see how diverse writers’ workplaces need to be.

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