tom thinks

The Earth lies still beneath a flannel shroud
Cozy-cold in temporary death
Until the spring will lift the cloaking cloud
Raising up the world with youthful breath
date 2001-03-02:07:26
Poem Driving in this morning the sky was a dull, low gray and snow was flaking down on the car. The Wolfe Island ferry was barely vissible as it breasted the ice, and the whole world seemed dreary and dead. I understood in that moment in a new way how much of a rebirth spring must have seemed to people who lived closer to nature than we do. For spring is nearly here--even now the sky is clearer and the newfallen snow is smoking off the roof I can see from my office window. It really must have seemed like a miracle to people that every year the dead world was brought alive again, just in time for Easter.
Reading I've been reading Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples for about a decade in small bits. I bought an abridged edition when I lived in Pasadena, which was a mistake--history does not bear abridgment well. Since then I've read the first two full volumes, which cover up to the Restoration, and am now working on The Age of Revolution.

Churchill writes beautifully, although in that staid English manner that takes some getting used to. He writes to be read slowly, deliberately. And he writes with considerable humor and humanity; although he is clearly deeply partisan he makes the effort of exposing his own prejudices, likes and dislikes. He hates Cromwell, for instance, which was an interesting contrast to Antonia Fraser's attitude. Fraser is a brilliant biographer, but she does have a tendency to fall in love with her subjects, even such apparently unlovable ones as Oliver himself. I admire Cromwell enormously--he is one of two people in all the history I know of who had the opportunity to make himself king and turned it down. But he was not, despite his many admirable qualities, very lovable.

His humor is droll--there's a comment about John of Gaunt setting up the royal exchequer, "The direct descendent of which is still with us to this day." He has an attitude that might be cynical on one who was less obviously in love with his subject: the people of England, and their foreign descendents. As might be expected from his own political career, he has little time for ideology of any kind, but clearly delineates the principles he believes in and is quick to judge both the English and others in their light. He sees the benefits of trade but is obviously fascinated by war--this work was started in the 1930's and completed in the 1950's, with a long hiatus while the author was busy saving the free world. His appreciation of the value of information gathering in time of war, which was to make such a difference to the Allied effort in WWII, is apparent even when discussing things like the American Rebellion.

His view of the American uprising is more sympathetic to both the colonials and the British than either probably deserve. You can see the grim picture Robert Graves paints in the Sgt. Lamb books between Churchill's lines (and Churchill in fact quotes from a version of Lamb's diaries published in 1909, which is odd because I recall Graves claimed to have discovered it in the archives of his regiment after WWI...hmmm.)

My other reading at the moment is Byron's Don Juan, which I'm enjoying a lot. The story is a bit thin but the language is pure fun, and the crisp, self-conscious, conversational voice of the author is a delight.

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