Monday, November 24, 2014

The Unmeasured Age of the Stars in their Dementia

Another attempted translation of Leconte de Lisle. The vocabulary gave me trouble, and so I'd welcome any criticism of my accuracy.

La Joie de Siva

Les siècles, où les Dieux, dès longtemps oubliés,
Par millions, jadis, se sont multipliés;
Les innombrables jours des aurores futures
Qui luiront sur la vie et ses vieilles tortures,
Et qui verront surgir, comme des spectres vains,
Des millions encor d'Éphémères divins;
Et l'âge immesuré des astres en démence
Dont la poussière d'or tournoie au Vide immense,
Pour s'engloutir dans l'ombre infinie où tout va;
Tout cela n'est pas même un moment de Siva.
Et quand l'Illusion qui conçoit et qui crée,
Stérile, aura tari sa matrice sacrée
D'où sont nés l'homme antique et l'univers vivant;
Quand la terre et la flamme, et la mer et le vent,
Et la haine et l'amour, et le désir sans trêve,
Les larmes et le sang, le mensonge et le rêve,
Et l'éblouissement des soleils radieux,
Dans la Nuit immobile auront suivi les Dieux;
Se faisant un collier de béantes mâchoires
Qui s'entre-choqueront sur ses épaules noires,
Siva, dansant de joie, ivre de volupté,
O Mort, te chantera dans ton Éternité!

From
DERNIERS POÈMES
by Leconte de Lisle.
Alphonse Lemerre, Editeur. Paris, 1895.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Plain yet Rich, Simple yet Subtle, Graceful yet Strong



"Here are a great many words I have uttered about words -- more than I had meant. The subject is indeed important, as I said at the beginning, not only to writers, but to all of us -- both as readers and as ordinary human beings, who have to think in words, and to talk them, and to write them, at least in our letters. It is important to us, too, as inheritors of our native tongue, which each of us, in his own minute degree, must help to leave better or worse for those that come after us. We may question, indeed, whether style has ever been much improved by books on style. The influence of creative writers, of national history, of social change, surely weighs far more. And no teaching can give talent; yet sometimes, perhaps, it may help to save talent from being wasted. A lot of writing is too confused and obscure; a lot is too wordy; a lot is too peevish or pompous or pretentious; a lot is too lifeless; a lot is too lazy. These are not hopeless faults to cure oneself of, if only one can remember them. If you can remember to pursue clarity, brevity, and courtesy to readers; to be, if not gay, at least good-humoured; never to write a line without considering whether it is really true, whether you have not exaggerated your statement, or its evidence; to shun dead images, and cherish living ones; and to revise unremittingly -- then, though you may not, even so, write well, you are likely at least to write less badly. For, obvious as such precepts are, nine-tenths of the books that are written seem to me to ignore one or more of them.

"The English of [the] future, even if its bounds are ever more widely set, will inevitably differ more and more from ours. That is part of the eternal change of things, and can be accepted without too much regret. But what that English of the hereafter is like, depends, as I have said, in its minute degree on what each of us says each day of our lives. One may hope that it will still be a language plain yet rich, simple yet subtle, graceful yet strong. Whether the effort to keep it so succeeds or fails, I trust that even those who disagree most strongly with all I have said, will yet agree that this effort needs, generation after generation, to be made."
-- F. L. Lucas, Style.
First published in 1955 by Cassell & Co. Ltd. Reprint edition: 2012 by Harriman House Ltd.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Comfort Me With Apples

David Longhorn's anthology, Supernatural Tales 28, has a story -- or should I call it a segment of a story? -- that I recommend to anyone who thinks our field is too familiar, too clichéd.

The story, "Comfort Me With Apples," is part of a longer piece by Jacob Felsen, "Bright Hair About The Bone." It turns the most common of human issues into something quietly strange, and its deceptively simple ending has remained in my head for the past few hours.

For me, this is the great advantage of supernatural fiction, horror fiction, dream fiction: it makes the familiar seem alien, and by doing this, paradoxically, it brings us back to the lonely questions that keep us awake in those hours long before sunrise. It brings us back to ourselves.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Watch Your Step

This afternoon I had a Web chat about writing, with someone who believed that grammatical mistakes were nothing more than "semantics." He felt that readers would understand what he had to say, whether he wrote grammatically or not.

I made the point that no writer can assume this, ever. We have no way to control how any reader might interpret what we say, but we can control how we say it. Grammar is control, and to ignore it is to toss away one of the best tools a writer has.

For a weak analogy, I mentioned someone who might work for days and days on a beautiful hardwood floor, only to leave a deep hole in the middle of the room. "People can walk around it," he would say, but is that a safe assumption? And what happens in the dark?

But beyond the risk of confusing readers is the risk of insulting them.

I always assume that anyone who takes the time to read my stories will know more about English than I do, and will have more important books lurking in the background waiting to be read. If I allowed myself to slip, if I allowed myself to write without my full attention, any clumsy phrase or ugly clause would be as obvious as a hornet's nest on a sidewalk, and I would lose the reader's trust.

In that sense, grammar becomes more than just a tool for writing; it becomes a promise to the reader. It says, "I respect your knowledge and your taste. I appreciate your time. Let me use that time with competence and care."

Pain on the Playing Fields

When I read a published story that fails in technique or vision or clarity, I feel as if I, too, had failed. I feel ashamed.

My last girlfriend would have scowled at this admission and replied, in her stern, cold voice, "Boundary issues!"

Well, perhaps. But I recall a moment from decades ago, on a playing field back in school, when someone was hit by a soccer ball right in the groin. He clutched at himself, staggered, nearly fell over... and all around him, the other boys gaped in sudden sympathetic agony. At moments like this, boundaries vanish.

Writing can fall apart easily, and mine often has; I kept two woodstoves burning for years with my failed attempts to learn. For that reason, my boundaries are thin, and they, too, have been known to vanish.