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Hello Goodbye Hello: Famous Writers Who Met Each Other

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle discovers the extraordinary meetings of famous writers

J. D. Salinger met Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway met Ford Madox Ford. Ford Madox Ford met Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde met Marcel Proust. Marcel Proust met James Joyce. Some of the most famous writers of the last century met each other, but they also met the great and good from beyond the literary world. And the not so great and not so good. H. G. Wells, for instance, met Josef Stalin.

Craig Brown’s book Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings, which was published in 2011, is an interesting ‘dipping’ book: each encounter between two notable people is given a short entry, a mini-essay, outlining the details of the meeting. This makes it a fascinating book to read in fits and starts (probably the best way to read a book like this), since you effectively learn something new, and surprising, about two famous people at once. It’s also a great premise for a book, the sort that must have had writers of such non-fiction books kicking themselves for having failed to come up with such a neat conceit. Each meeting documented in the book is linked by one of the contributors, so that Maxim Gorky’s encounter with Tolstoy leads into Tolstoy’s meeting with Tchaikovsky, just as George Read the rest of this entry

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Five of the Best Poems about Eyes

Are these English literature’s greatest poems about eyes and sight?

The poet sees many things which the rest of us miss, and we might even offer one definition of ‘poet’ as ‘someone who takes the unremarkable and everyday and shows its deeper meaning to us’. It’s only an approximation of what the poet does, although it’s applicable to many of the greatest writers of poetry down the ages. And some of the greatest poets in English literature have written about the importance and power of eyes, and what it means to have – or not have – the gift of sight. Here are five of the best ‘eye poems’.

Sir Philip Sidney, Sonnet 99 from Astrophil and Stella. Beginning ‘When far-spent night persuades each mortal eye’, this poem seems like a good pick to kick off our selection of the best eye-poems. Our eyes are like arrows, darting a look here and there; but what do we do at night when it’s dark? Sleep, of course. But not so for Sidney, or rather Astrophil: his eyes are wide open, like windows letting the darkness in – that external darkness which so neatly chimes with the ‘inward night’ of his mind, thanks to his hopeless love for Stella. Look out for the masterly use of ‘i’ sounds at the end of each line of this sonnet, suggesting the eye/night theme of the poem. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of John Keats’s ‘Bright star! Would I were steadfast as thou art’

On one of Keats’s finest sonnets

‘Bright Star’, or ‘Bright star! Would I were steadfast as thou art’ as it is sometimes known, is probably the most famous sonnet written by the Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821). He wrote it in 1819 originally, although he revised it a year later. When he wrote ‘Bright Star’, Keats knew that he was dying from consumption or tuberculosis, and the poem is in part about this awareness that he will die young.

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest, Read the rest of this entry