My bedside table or rather the mahogany butler’s tray next to it was the first item of furniture I bought in London in Portobello antique arcade when I arrived in Britain- it was probably the very first piece of furniture I ever bought. It has a nice gleaming surface, large enough to carry a good ten to 15 books and is always cluttered with lots even though I try to read my way through to the polished wood…
Currently, I am reading Keats “Letters to Fanny Brawne” and Epicurus “Letter to Menecus”.
Letters are so moving because they were once written for somebody and have been read and necessarily have had an influence on somebody’s life… A real, tangible influence that still seems to resonate through. When Epicure says: “He who is not satisfied with what he has got, be he the king of the world, will never be happy”, his pupil stood and took note – and so do we… Epicure was not an ‘epicurean’ but more of a stoic, as obvious from this quote! He never did advocate a life of unbridled pleasure but a life of measure. Of course, he says man seeks pleasure in all aspects of his life. But pleasure is merely defined by the lack of pain – hardly “epicurean” indeed.
I also have next to me the beautiful catalogue of the current Van Gogh exhibition held at the RA”The artist and his letters”. In this age of speedy texts and emails, it is refreshing to browse through a collection of artist letters, illustrated with ink or watercolours, with sketches and vignettes of his life and work. This took time to write and then time to get there. The recipient was then expected to take time to read it : Communication was slow and rich. Letters had value and were kept for future generations to enjoy. Imagine if Fanny had not passed on Keats letters to her children! Imagine if Keats or his friends had kept Fanny’s replies with the same care she showed in keeping his…
Other books on my bedside table include an ethnological study called “Watching the English” and “Tea with Mr Rochester”, a series of short stories with a quaint post-war charm published by Persephone Books in their dove grey cover. More on that when I have finished!
I am constantly at the moment dipping into the following poetry books:
- “Birthday Letters” by Ted Hughes is a moving tribute to his wife Sylvia Plath, with the first poem being written 10 years after her death then every year after that. That’s real love to me…
- “Rapture” by Carol Ann Duffy, this year Poet Laureate
- The poems of Keats in the lovely new edition by Claire Tomalin for Penguin classics.
I bade good-morrow,
And thought to leave her far away behind;
But cheerly, cheerly,
She loves me dearly;
She is so constant to me, and so kind:
I would deceive her,
And so leave her,
But ah! she is so constant and so kind.