Beautiful Writing, Part 5: John Donne

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John Donne was a poet, philosopher, and man of the church in Renaissance England. His writing covered a wide range of material, including poems, songs, and sermons. I want to quote from one of his most famous pieces: “Meditation 17”, which many readers will recognize as the epigram at the beginning of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

This quotation is an expression of Humanism and the connection of all people. It is especially important in our current world.

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Beautiful Writing: Part 3, Walt Whitman

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Walt Whitman is one of the most important American, if not world, poets. His work changed poetry, and he has been called the Poet of Democracy. His collection Leaves of Grass, is one of the books of poetry that I recommend everyone read sometime in his or her life.

I want to offer two examples of his work: this first is a brief excerpt from his preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass as a representation of beautiful writing. This is from the preface that Whitman wrote to his work, and it is in prose, but it reads like poetry.

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and

the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that

asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your

income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not

concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward

the people, take off your hat to nothing known or

unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely

with powerful uneducated persons and with the young

and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in

the open air every season of every year of your life, re-

examine all you have been told at school or church or

in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul,

and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the

richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent

lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your

eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

 

My second Whitman offering is perhaps his most famous poem and is about the death of Abraham Lincoln: “O Captain! My Captain!”

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

                         But O heart! heart! heart!

                            O the bleeding drops of red,

                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

                         Here Captain! dear father!

                            This arm beneath your head!

                               It is some dream that on the deck,

                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

                            But I with mournful tread,

                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.

 

Beautiful Writing: Part 2: William Shakespeare

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I would certainly be avoiding the truth and not doing duty to writing if I did not include in this series the man who is certainly the best and most important writer in English Drama and Literature: William Shakespeare.

In full disclosure, I am a Shakespearean. I have made the study of his work one of my areas of my Ph.D. in English, I have taught Shakespeare many times, I have presented papers on Shakespeare, and I have directed and acted in his plays. So, I do come with a particular bias, but I maintain that his work is the core of English Literature.

You certainly do not have to agree with me.

I will offer a few examples:

Sonnet 116

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

Henry V (Act 4. Scene 3. Lines 21-70)

“What’s he that wishes so?

My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:

If we are mark’d to die, we are enow

To do our country loss; and if to live,

The fewer men, the greater share of honour.

God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,

Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;

It yearns me not if men my garments wear;

Such outward things dwell not in my desires:

But if it be a sin to covet honour,

I am the most offending soul alive.

No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:

God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour

As one man more, methinks, would share from me

For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,

Let him depart; his passport shall be made

And crowns for convoy put into his purse:

We would not die in that man’s company

That fears his fellowship to die with us.

This day is called the feast of Crispian:

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,

And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.

And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,

But he’ll remember with advantages

What feats he did that day: then shall our names.

Familiar in his mouth as household words

Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,

Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,

Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remember’d;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

 

Hamlet (Act 5. Scene 2. Lines 206-211)

“Not a whit, we defy augury: there’s a special

 providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,

 ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be

 now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the

 readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he

 leaves, what is’t to leave betimes?”

J.K. Rowling on Writing

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“Read as much as you possibly can. Nothing will help you as much as reading.”

 

“There’s no formula.”

 

“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”

Beautiful Writing: Part I: Ray Bradbury

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One of the reasons that I love to read, in addition to experiencing other worlds, walking in the path of other characters, learning about the world around us, and escaping from reality for a short time, is to enjoy the beauty of words. Some writers are able to elevate their writing to a level of poetry and beauty that is exhilarating and joyful to read.

One writer, whose use of words, reaches poetic levels is Ray Bradbury. He is a writer not easily confined to one genre and whose work is defined by love of story. I have taught his work in several college classes in both Muhlenberg College and Lehigh University, and his writing has been an influence on me as a novelist.

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I will offer two passages from his brilliant novel Dandelion Wine, a BildungsRoman or coming-of-age story, set in late 1920s in Green Town, Illinois. These passages are from the perspective of a boy who is beginning to see possibilities in life, both the external world and in himself.

The first passage is the opening of the novel:

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed.

Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing

of the world was long and warm and slow. You only had to rise, lean from your

window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living,

this was the first morning of summer.

Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its

early-morning stream. Lying in his third-story cupola bedroom, he felt the tall

power it gave him, riding high in the June wind, the grandest tower in town. At

night, when the trees washed together, he flashed his gaze like a beacon from

this lighthouse in all directions over swarming seas of elm and oak and maple.

Now . . . (1)

That is an extraordinary opening to a novel. It pulls the reader into the story with a seemingly simplistic prose, but within that simplicity is beauty and the poetry of the world being seen through young eyes.

Another passage shows Douglas at night time:

Douglas sprawled back on  the dry porch planks, completely  contented

and reassured by these voices, which would speak on through eternity, flow

in a stream of murmurings over his body, over his closed eyelids, into his

drowsy ears, for all time. The rocking chairs sounded like crickets, the crickets

sounded like rocking chairs, and the moss-covered rain barrel by  the

dining-room window produced another generation of mosquitoes to provide

a topic of conversation through endless summers ahead. (33)

 

Both excerpts, in my view, are beautiful, compelling, and poetic. All writers should read and study Ray Bradbury.

Works Cited

Bradbury, Ray. Dandelion Wine. New York. Avon Books. 1999.

Stephen King on Revision

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“To write is human, to edit is divine.”

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”

 

“Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft— one of them, anyway—is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to you and your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story. It hardly ever fails.”

 

All quotations are from

Stephen King On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft

 

 

Back From the Writers Digest Conference!

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I have not posted anything in the last few days because I have been busy at the 2017 Writers Digest Conference in New York City, and it was a great time! If you are a writer, and you want to learn more about the world of publishing and to have an opportunity to pitch to agents, then I recommend this conference to you.

I attended many sessions with publishing professionals and writers, and I learned something useful at each session, including about writing, marketing, and various other aspects of the world of publishing.  I met and networked with other writers, and that was also extremely important and valuable. To those I met, it was delightful, and I hope we keep in contact.

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Perhaps the most exciting event was the Agent Pitch Slam, which is essentially like speed dating, with a strictly enforced 3 minute maximum with each agent, and then the writers move on. If a writer does well in pitching his/her book, then they might see 6-8 agents. I was able to pitch to 7, and one requested my entire manuscript–my YA novel The Ameriad: The Monastery of Knowledge by Charles F. French! Now, I know that is not a guarantee, but it is a major step forward, and I am excited about it.

I also want to say thank you very much to my in-laws, who very graciously opened their home to me while I attended the conference. They are wonderful people, and I love them.   Again, thank you!

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