Adultery and Goshawks: Elizabeth Bowen’s The House in Paris and Heather Allen’s Leaving a Shadow

Dear Reader:

Remember how I asked you about spring light – whether it was an illusion or if it did seem different…  THANK YOU Billy Collins!

It is a kind of spring morning–candid sunlight

elucidating the air, a flower-ruffling breeze–

Billy Collins, A History of Weather
From Questions about Angels (1999)

Candid sunlight – perfect!  And what a wonderful poem – he’s watching the clouds and starts to think about a million years of weather, snow falling on Victorian London, cloudy Dark Ages days, rain falling on Eden…  It is a time machine of a poem.  Very cool.

195)  The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen (hard copy) 1935

Henrietta (11) and Leopold (9) cross paths in Paris as they wait out the day in Madame Fisher’s house.  English Henrietta has lost her mother and is headed for her Grandmother’s in the South of France.  Leopold awaits his first meeting with his mother.  Adopted, he has been living in Italy.

The children are the very serious type and seasick from adult foibles, they face off, attempting to size up and outdo each other.  But as the day unfolds, their crushing at the mercy of the adult world brings them together.

The House in Paris moves back and forth between past and present, explaining Leopold.  He is the outcome of adult cowardice and failure of spirit.  We come to see that absolutely no one in the world constructed by Bowen is guiltless, save for these children who manage to unearth their humanity and connect even as the adults around them manipulate each other dishonestly.

This is one of my favorite Bowen’s.  Published in 1935, when Bowen was at the height of her powers, the beauty and poetry of her images moved me and her unsparing view of adults horrified.  This is a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat eager to learn the secrets and the ultimate outcome.

More opinions: Giraffe Days, Books to the Ceiling, The Reading Life.

493) Leaving a Shadow by Heather Allen (hard copy)

I’ve had this book of poetry for many years.  I dipped into it now and again, but never took the time to read it through or chew on it very deeply.

This weekend, I read it through, pausing over the poems, reading them out loud, marking up the pages.

How wonderful it is.  The book focuses entirely on nature – describing lakes at dawn, forests at dusk, clouds in the afternoon, goshawks at prey…  Her images are gorgeous, like a series of wilderness photos, her metaphors blending natural and human worlds.  Leaving a Shadow could speak to the fear of trout fishers (don’t get close to the bank and leave a shadow or the fish will see you) or humans in their relationship to nature.  Labyrinths, paths, spirals predominate along with owls, herons, and trout.

Reading this book is like visiting a fantastic spa for a massage: relaxing and thought-provoking.  This will surely sound insipid, but this would be a great book of poetry to take camping.

486) Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry by Billy Collins (2003, hard copy)

When named Poet Laureate, Collins set out to expand American relationships to poetry through the Poetry 180 project.  The idea was to provide schools with access to 180 poems a year that would be read to students with the morning announcements.  No comments from teachers, no interpretation, no forcing anyone to do anything.  But if they listened to the poems, carefully chosen to be clear, accessible, and relevant to teenagers, perhaps poetry would start to make sense to them and to help them understand its power.

This book is the first of two out of the series.  I did a bit of research and it appears that Fair Use policy allows me to quote two lines of any poem that is under copyright.  But, all the poems in this book are available to you FOR FREE at the website, so I can link to them.  Pretty neat!

I’ve been reading through it, but I want to intro you to the first poem from the book, written by Collins (this is probably the only one that is), called Introduction to Poetry. He begins with asking a group to look at a poem, put it up to the light:

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out.

I love this image of a mouse nosing its way around the poem – so out of place and yet, it also makes playful sense.  He goes on to use a number of different playful metaphors — all to say, hey! poetry doesn’t HAVE to be hard work, it can be lovely, it can be fun, it can give life meaning…  You can read the entire poem here.

I’m only about 20 poems in, I’d say that some of the poems are wonderful, some not so interesting (he chose a number about cars), but on the whole this is a great anthology.

Happy reading, Ruby




    1. The List | A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books
    2. Tarpon, Angels, and Snowballs: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening; Billy Collins’ Questions about Angels; and Miller Williams’ Listen | A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books
    3. Making It to the Top: The Big 2-0-0… | A Year of Actually Reading My Own Books

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