Sunday 23 February 2014


2014-08  Emerson: Mountain and the Squirrel Fable

Mountain and the Squirrel

A poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson which truly showcases the problem of complexes in human beings. The poem depicts a mountain carrying forests on its back but cannot crack a nut. And a squirrel that can crack a nut but cannot carry forests on its back. So none is superior or inferior in this world. All creatures serve as spokes in the wheel of life. God acts as the hub holding everything together. The poem:

The Mountain And The Squirrel       by  Ralph Waldo Emerson
The mountain and the squirrel
Had a quarrel,
And the former called the latter
“Little prig.”
Bun replied,
“You are doubtless very big;
But all sorts of things and weather
Must be taken in together

To make up a year
And a sphere.
And I think it no disgrace
To occupy my place.

If I'm not so large as you,
You are not so small as I,
And not half so spry
I'll not deny you make
A very pretty squirrel track.
Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;
If I cannot carry forests on my back,
Neither can you crack a nut
Compare this with a similar idea expressed by the Tamil Poetess Auvaiyar [13P18]:

Look at the weaver bird's wondrous nest, 
The beautiful lac or the ancient white ant's hill;
The hive of the honey bee or the spider's web;
No mortal man can imitate these.
Let no one, therefore, vaunt his skill
Because he can do this or that.
There is none but in something excels.

[வான் குருவியின் கூடு வல்லரக்குத் தொல் கறையான் 
தேன் சிலம்பி யாவர்க்கும் செய்யரிதால்  யாம் பெரிதும் 
வல்லோமே என்று வலிமை சொல வேண்டாம் காண்
எல்லோர்க்கும் ஒவ்வொன்று எளிது.] 
Emerson: Mountain and the Squirrel Fable YouTube Video [Click here]

Emerson: Mountain and the Squirrel Fable Video [Click here]

Sunday 16 February 2014


2014-07  Emerson: Father in Heaven We Thank Thee

Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-1882] was an American essayist, poet and philosopher, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century.  Emerson is also well known as a mentor and friend of fellow Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau.

His first two collections of essays – Essays: First Series and Essays: Second Series, published respectively in 1841 and 1844 – represent the core of his thinking, and include such well-known essays as Nature, Self-RelianceThe Over-soul,  Compensation,  and Experience

I repeatedly read aloud Emerson's poem Father We Thank Thee to nurture an attitude of Gratitude. Whoever does this with religious regularity is bound to be immensely benefited.

Father in Heaven We Thank Thee
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

For flowers that bloom about our feet,
For tender grass so fresh, so sweet,
For the song of bird and hum of bee,
For all things fair we hear or see,

Father in heaven, we thank Thee.

For blue of stream and blue of sky,
For pleasant shade of branches high,
For fragrant air and cooling breeze,
For beauty of the blooming trees,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.

For mother-love and father-care,

For brothers strong and sisters fair, 
For love at home and school each day,
For guidance lest we go astray,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.

For this new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.


Father in Heaven We Thank Thee: YouTube Video [Click here] 

Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson [Click here]


Sunday 9 February 2014


2014-06  Charles Lamb: Dream Children

The great master of the personal or familiar essay is "Gentle Charles" Lamb [1775-1834]. 

Born of a father who worked in the Inner Temple, one of the Inns of Court in London, he grew up in an atmosphere favorable to the love of books and literary people. 

At the age of seven he was sent to Christ's Hospital School, where the severity of the treatment only accentuated the gentleness of the boy and early made him known among his fellows as an exceedingly likable youth.

There he made friends of boys who later became known in the literary world, particularly Coleridge and Leigh Hunt. In November, 1789, when he was but fourteen, he was taken out of school and, soon after, went to work in a private office, the next year leaving to enter the South Sea House, importers, where his brother John worked. Finally in 1792 he entered the employ of the East India House as bookkeeper and remained in their employ for thirty-three years.

In the winter of 1795, disappointment over love of Ann Simmons drove him temporarily insane and laid the basis of his unbounded sympathy for and devotion to his sister Mary, who later, in a fit of insanity, killed her mother. His sacrifice of himself and all that he might have wished for himself, in order to nurse Mary through her recurring insanity, has earned him the admiration of generations.

His home and favorite coffee-houses were frequented by much of the best literary talent; his conversation and repartee became important in the literary life of the period. Slight of stature, dressed rather shabbily in outmoded clothes, given to punning in his humorous stammering, Lamb presented a figure closely associated with his literary work. Hazlitt called Lamb the best of indoor company.

In 1820 the famous Essays of Elia appeared in the London Magazine, essays partly biographical, in which Lamb appeared as James Elia. It is upon these essays mainly that his fame rests. In 1834 he stumbled and fell and, lacking strength enough to recover from the blow, "sank into death placidly as into sleep". His grave is now cared for by a perpetual endowment from E. V. Lucas, a modern English essayist whose work reflects so much of the gentle Elia spirit. Lucas' Life of Charles Lamb is the best work on the subject. 

The Dream Children: A Reverie  given below is the most poignant [and in my opinion, the best piece along with The Praise of Chimney Sweepers] in Charles Lamb's mostly autobiographical Essays of Elia.

Children love to listen to stories about their elders, when they were children; to stretch their imagination to the conception of a traditionary great-uncle, or grandame, whom they never saw. It was in this spirit that my little ones crept about me the other evening to hear about their great-grandmother Field, who lived in a great house in Norfolk (a hundred times bigger than that in which they and papa lived) which had been the scene -- so at least it was generally believed in that part of the country -- of the tragic incidents which they had lately become familiar with from the ballad of the Children in the Wood. 

Certain it is that the whole story of the children and their cruel uncle was to be seen fairly carved out in wood upon the chimney-piece of the great hall, the whole story down to the Robin Redbreasts, till a foolish rich Person pulled it down to set up a marble one of modern invention in its stead, with no story upon it. Here Alice put out one of her dear mother's looks, too tender to be called upbraiding. 

Then I went on to say, how religious and how good their great. grandmother Field was, how beloved and respected by every body, though she was not indeed the mistress of this great house, but had only the charge of it (and yet in some respects she might be said to be the mistress of it too) committed to her by the owner, who preferred living in a newer and more fashionable mansion which he had purchased somewhere in the adjoining county; but still she lived in it in a manner as if it had been her own, and kept up the dignity of the great house in a sort while she lived, which afterwards came to decay, and was nearly pulled down, and all its old ornaments stripped and carried away to the owner's other house, where they were set up, and looked as awkward as if some one were to carry away the old tombs they had seen lately at the Abbey, and stick them up in Lady C.'s tawdry gilt drawing-room. Here John smiled, as much as to say, "that would be foolish indeed." 

And then I told how, when she came to die, her funeral was attended by a concourse of all the poor, and some of the gentry too, of the neighbourhood for many miles round, to show their respect for her memory, because she had been such a good and religious woman; so good indeed that she knew all the Psaltery by heart, ay, and a great part of the Testament besides. Here little Alice spread her hands. 

Then I told what a tall, upright, graceful person their great-grandmother Field once was; and how in her youth she was esteemed the best dancer -- here Alice's little right foot played an involuntary movement, till, upon my looking grave, it desisted -- the best dancer, I was saying, in the county, till a cruel disease, called a cancer, came, and bowed her down with pain; but it could never bend her good spirits, or make them stoop, but they were still upright, because she was so good and religious. 

Then I told how she was used to sleep by herself in a lone chamber of the great lone house; and how she believed that an apparition of two infants was to be seen at midnight gliding up and down the great staircase near where she slept, but she said "those innocents would do her no harm;" and how frightened I used to be, though in those days I had my maid to sleep with me, because I was never half so good or religious as she -- and yet I never saw the infants. Here John expanded all his eye-brows and tried to look courageous. 

Then I told how good she was to all her grand-children, having us to the great-house in the holydays, where I in particular used to spend many hours by myself, in gazing upon the old busts of the Twelve Caesars, that had been Emperors of Rome, till the old marble heads would seem to live again, or I to be turned into marble with them; how I never could be tired with roaming about that huge mansion, with its vast empty rooms, with their worn-out hangings, fluttering tapestry, and carved oaken pannels, with the gilding almost rubbed out -- sometimes in the spacious old-fashioned gardens, which I had almost to myself, unless when now and then a solitary gardening man would cross me -- and how the nectarines and peaches hung upon the walls, without my ever offering to pluck them, because they were forbidden fruit, unless now and then, -- and because I had more pleasure in strolling about among the old melancholy-looking yew trees, or the firs, and picking up the red berries, and the fir apples, which were good for nothing but to look at -- or in lying a out upon the fresh grass, with all the fine garden smells around me -- or basking in the orangery, till I could almost fancy myself ripening too along with the oranges and the limes in that grateful warmth -- or in watching the dace that darted to and fro in the fish-pond, at the bottom of the garden, with here and there a great sulky pike hanging midway down the water in silent state, as if it mocked at their impertinent friskings, -- I had more pleasure in these busy-idle diversions than in all the sweet flavours of peaches, nectarines, oranges, and such like common baits of children. 

Here John slyly deposited back upon the plate a bunch of grapes, which, not unobserved by Alice, he had meditated dividing with her, and both seemed willing to relinquish them for the present as irrelevant. Then in somewhat a more heightened tone, I told how, though their great-grandmother Field loved all her grand-children, yet in an especial manner she might be said to love their uncle, John L----, because he was so handsome and spirited a youth, and a king to the rest of us; and, instead of moping about in solitary corners, like some of us, he would mount the most mettlesome horse he could get, when but an imp no bigger than themselves, and make it carry him half over the county in a morning, and join the hunters when there were any out -- and yet he loved the old great house and gardens too, but had too much spirit to be always pent up within their boundaries -- and how their uncle grew up to man's estate as brave as he was handsome, to the admiration of every body, but of their great-grandmother Field most especially; and how he used to carry me upon his back when I was a lame- footed boy -- for he was a good bit older than me -- many a mile when I could not walk pain; -- and how in after life he became lame-footed too, and I did not always (I fear) make allowances enough for him when he was impatient, and in pain, nor remember sufficiently how considerate he had been to me when I was lame- footed; and how when he died, though he had not been dead an hour, it seemed as if he had died a great while ago, such a distance there is betwixt life and death; and how I bore his death as I thought pretty well at first, but afterwards it haunted and haunted me; and though I did not cry or take it to heart as some do, and as I think he would have done if I had died, yet I missed him all day long, and knew not till then how much I had loved him. I missed his kindness, and I missed his crossness, and wished him to be alive again, to be quarrelling with him (for we quarreled sometimes), rather than not have him again, and was as uneasy without him, as he their poor uncle must have been when the doctor took off his limb. Here the children fell a crying, and asked if their little mourning which they had on was not for uncle John, and they looked up, and prayed me not to go on about their uncle, but to tell them, some stories about their pretty dead mother. 

Then I told how for seven long years, in hope sometimes, sometimes in despair, yet persisting ever, I courted the fair Alice W---n; and, as much as children could understand, I explained to them what coyness, and difficulty, and denial meant in maidens -- when suddenly, turning to Alice, the soul of the first Alice looked out at her eyes with such a reality of re-presentment, that I became in doubt which of them stood there before me, or whose that bright hair was; and while I stood gazing, both the children gradually grew fainter to my view, receding, and still receding till nothing at last but two mournful features were seen in the uttermost distance, which, without speech, strangely impressed upon me the effects of speech; "We are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor are we children at all. 

The children of Alice called Bartrum father. We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence, and a name" ------ and immediately awaking I found myself quietly seated in my bachelor arm-chair, where I had fallen asleep, with the faithful Bridget unchanged by my side -- but John L. (or James Elia) was gone for ever.

Charles Lamb's Dream Children - A Reverie  YouTube Video [49 min] [Click Here] 

Charles Lamb's Dream Children  YouTube Slide Share [Click Here] 

Sunday 2 February 2014


2014-05 Charles Lamb: Hail, Candle Light!

Charles Lamb [1775-1834]
Hail, Candle Light!

Charles Lamb or Elia as he called himself, was one of the great essayists, poets and critics of the early 19th century. Alone or with his sister Mary, he wrote such works as Tales from ShakespeareThe Adventures of UlyssesPoems and PlaysThe Essays of Elia and The Last Essays of Elia

"He delighted in the vigour and quaintness of seventeenth-century English. And his mastery lay in using it to record homely, intimate experience. He acquired from the old writers whom he loved, a lofty and fanciful way of treating trivial things. His work is more full of exquisitely apt literary phrases than that of perhaps any other prose writer."

Who else but Charles Lamb can write thus:  The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers

"I like to meet a sweep -- one of those tender novices, blooming through their first nigritude, the maternal washings not quite effaced from the cheek -- such as come forth with the dawn, or somewhat earlier, with their little professional notes sounding like the peep peep of a young sparrow; or liker to the matin lark should I pronounce them, in their aerial ascents not seldom anticipating the sun-rise?

I have a kindly yearning towards these dim specks -- poor blots -- innocent blacknesses -- I reverence these young Africans of our own growth -- these almost clergy imps, who sport their cloth without assumption; and from their little pulpits (the tops of chimneys), in the nipping air of a December morning, preach a lesson of patience to mankind."

Sir Desmond MacCarthy writes in "Elia after a Hundred Years" thus:

"Lamb is a classic, but he is a little classic; and it is little classics who are, as a rule, most subject to fluctuations of appreciation.  Yet in spite of four generations having come and gone, how high the Essays of Elia stand!...

Lamb always writes as one to whom words are a delight in themselves, and though no one cared more genuinely for the things he wrote about, joy lay for him in the manner of describing them.  He is distinctly an art-for-art's sake writer....

His sentiment is that of one who loves to share the little arts of happiness, to whom past things are peculiarly endeared because they are no more, who is content with the 'most kindly and natural species of love', as he calls it, in the place of passion....

The Essays of Elia are largely autobiographical. Much of their substance is fetched from Lamb's boyhood, having lain many years in his memory unused. Those essays are in essence poems: Yes, passages in them are 'poems in prose'.

Facts, recalled in them, have turned into visions; visions in which the essence of the past resides. True wisdom lies in the contemplation of Essences; certainly they are the stuff from which good literature is made.  Hence, too, the charm of charity which pervades Lamb's work. 

Lamb had a superb gift for appreciation. That he was poet himself is the secret of his greatness as a critic.  Of course, he had his limitations.  He was more sensitive to things old than new...He wrote for 'antiquity'.

I should like to end with Lamb's words on my lips.  He is among the lesser luminaries of English literature, but --

'Hail, candle-light! without disparagement to the sun or moon, the kindliest luminary of the three--if we may not rather style thee their radiant deputy, mild viceroy of the moon! --We love to read, talk, sit silent, eat, drink, sleep, by candle-light.  They are everybody's sun and moon. This is our particular and household planet.'  And so is Lamb."

YouTube Video: Charles Lamb --Top 10 Quotes [3 min] [Click here]

Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia and the Last Essays of Elia [Click here]

Charles & Mary Lamb: Tales from Shakespeare Illustrated Preview [Click here]

Charles & Mary Lamb: Tales from Shakespeare Full [Click here]