Monday, October 3, 2011

I've Moved -- New Website!

Well, folks, my time at Beyond the Loneliest Star is over!

I've moved to a wordpress site here.

I hope to see you over at the Having Decided To Stay where I continue to write about wide world and the sweetness of the way...

Seize the Day!


Saturday, June 25, 2011

O Pioneers! and Wuthering Heights ---

What does Willa Cather’s O Pioneers – a novel about a struggling Swedish homesteading family in Nebraska – have in common with Emily Bronte’s classic story of a haunting and tragic love affair on the moors of Britain -- the windswept Wuthering Heights? Well, both stories deal with unhappy marriages, with impetuous and emotional people, and with the passing of time. Both stories deal with the history of personal tragedies, and both invite the reader to step back and take a good, hard look at his own life.

O Pioneers! tells us the story of the sweet, independent and wise Alexandra Bergson who transforms her family’s farm into a profitable business after her father’s death, despite opposition from her less intelligent brothers, Lou and Oscar. Alexandra has a close relationship with a neighbor boy, Carl Lindstrum, who is introduced to us at the outset of the novel as a slightly hardened but kind fifteen-year-old boy. He becomes estranged from Alexandra when his family moves away, and she doesn’t see him again until he is a grown man of thirty-five. He has always felt inferior to her, and so he is unwilling to marry her. Alexandra’s dream is to create a happy life for her youngest brother Emil, a full fifteen years her junior. She hopes to send him to college and see him make a great man of himself. When he returns from college, he is slightly indolent and does not fully appreciate the sacrifices his sister has made on his behalf. He entangles himself in an affair with a vivacious and unhappily married Bohemian girl, Marie Shabata. Marie’s jealous husband catches them together and shoots both of them to death in a blind rage. Alexandra realizes that she should have seen the tragedy coming and is devastated. In her time of weakness, Carl comes rushing home to see her and finally they are married.

Wuthering Heights tells us of the capricious and jealous Catherine Earnshaw and her relationship with her foster-brother, a gypsy foundling named Heathcliff. Perhaps the most memorable portions of the book are those detailing the childhood shared by Cathy and Heathcliff. A former family servant tells how the two passionate and unruly childen were unrestrained and left to their own devices. Upon the death of their parents, the children fall into to the care of their older brother Hindley, a selfish man who is envious of Heathcliff. He treats the younger boy badly, depriving him of the privileges he had enjoyed under Cathy’s father and reducing him to a position of servanthood. Heathcliff, always of a passionate nature, becomes bitter and this bitterness is increased to a vengefulness when Cathy chooses to marry his rival Edgar Linton. She doesn’t really love Edgar, but says it would “degrade” her to marry Heathcliff. Heathcliff hears a part of her statement and his pride is severely wounded. He runs away and does not return for three years, during which time he acquires a small fortune. The new Heathcliff re-enters the story only for the purpose of vengeance. He swindles and abuses Cathy’s relatives, including her brother Hindley and her sister-in-law, Isabella Linton. As book wears on, we see the horrific results of his tormented passions, and those of Cathy, who grows increasingly selfish and eventually dies unhappy and frustrated.

I think it is likely that the authors of these books want us to look at the lives of their characters as a whole. This is why the stories are told from so far back. Probably Bronte and Cather were hoping that we would step back and look from a distance at their word paintings to see the design. Both of these books seek to show the importance of childhood in the shaping of character. The authors are telling us that children become adults regardless, with adult problems and adult temptations, but that they do not ever really grow up unless there is someone there to grow them up. We see how Cathy, Heathcliff, Marie and Emil’s lethal passions could have been mastered by better training and more time with deliberate adults. Both books also strongly emphasize the power of childhood relationships with the opposite sex. Cather and Bronte try to tell us that when a girl and a boy are best friends as children, they have a homegrown love that goes deeper than a fascination with an attractive stranger. Alexandra and Carl do come together in the end. They wait for a long time. But they are married, and we are happy and gratified when the thing finally comes about. Cathy is more selfish and impatient than Alexandra. She does not want to wait, and she is flattered by Edgar Linton’s attentions. She spurns Heathcliff as a lover, even though she acknowledges that he knows her better than anyone else ever will. Cathy and Heathcliff are forever tormented by her decision and their bitterness causes them not only to ruin their own lives, but the lives of others.

And yet, both Bronte and Cather seem to suggest that a mistake such as Cathy’s should not be considered a fatal one, and that it is crucial for those people involved to choose to get over it. In both novels, we see how the lovers’ unwillingness to move on proved to be destructive, and did not alleviate their regrets. The bleak and unlovely lives that are the results of Cathy and Marie’s refusal to accept their own choices are contrasted starkly with the beautifully normal and simple lives of others around them. Cather adresses the issue of a contented, simple life when Carl returns home to see Alexandra for the first time since he was an adolescent. He has been wandering the country for awhile, trying to make ends meet as an artist, just doing his own thing. He tells her this has not made him happy. “Freedom so often means one isn’t needed anywhere,” he says to her. While Wuthering Heights and O Pioneers! certainly hold their own as mere stories, their chief merits lie in their ability to warn and caution the reader through the mistakes of their characters.

Seize The Day!


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Mozart --- (You're Not a Genius Until You're Dead)

(This is a paper I wrote a few months ago.)

You're Not a Genius Until You're Dead

(Reflective Narration from The Arts by Hendrik Willem Van Loon)

Recognized today as one of the greatest Western composers of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived his short thirty-six years not only overworked and underfed but unappreciated. Music-lover that he was, perhaps as a young man it wouldn't have bothered Mozart too much to learn that his strenuous composer's lifestyle was to bring him quickly to the grave --- but chances are he would have the resented the fact that it was to be an unmarked pauper's grave.

Mozart's musical career began at the age of three, with his father, a violinist in the service of the Archbishop, as his private teacher. He was performing in public a year later, playing his own compositions. At six he went to Vienna to play for Maria Theresa. "How pretty you are!" he said to her young daughter Marie Antoinette on this occasion. "When I am grown up, I shall marry you." Did she perhaps remember these words as she stepped up to the guillotine thirty-one years later and prepared to breathe her last? Had this childish dream been realized, Marie Antoinette might have lived to see old age. But it would have been an old age without Mozart. By then he had already been dead two years.

When Mozart returned to Salzburg as an older teenager, the old Prince Archbishop had died and his successor was neither courteous nor an admirer of music. Mozart found his new master's superiority complex so frustrating that he resigned his position as honorary Kapellmeister. This action only further enraged the Archbishop who determined to do everything in his power to make the young man's life miserable. At that time in history, there was a great deal that such a power figure could do to a poor musician. Mozart's family fell into debt and he began traveling Europe in attempts to support himself. He fell in love with a penniless young German girl and this only made life more difficult. In response to his father's pleas not to allow his passion to ruin the girl, he wrote that he was hopelessly in love but too conscious of his duties toward God to do anything wrong. Shortly after this, he had to send news of a different sort. His mother had died in a Paris boarding-house after a long illness. It is apparent that the Mozart family's debts would not allow a doctor visit.

After his mother's death, Mozart acquired a position and was able to marry Constance Weber, the younger sister of the girl he'd so hopelessly pursued a few years before. Unfortunately, she was as bad a money manager as he was and the bills began to pile up. A poor man has to take what he is given, and while many exalted personages had commissions for Mozart, none of them paid well enough to enable him to live comfortable. When a Count Walsegg commissioned a requiem that he would later palm off as a composition of his own, Mozart, worn and stressed and in a constant fever, imagined that the valet sent to request the goods was a messenger from heaven, announcing his approaching end. The next day he died.

On the day of Mozart's burial it rained so hard that not even his wife was able to accompany him to the cemetery. The only one of Mozart's friends that was there to see his body dropped into a common grave was his faithful mongrel dog. Constance remarried and she and her new husband spent the rest of their lives organizing Mozart's compositions and preparing a biography for him. Since then dozens of biographies and monuments and memorials have been erected in his honor. Unfortunately no one even knows what exactly killed the composer, because his body, thrown into a grave reserved for the poorest of the poor, cannot be identified.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


It’s good of you to be here,
to sit by the window and hold your eyes open.
Mine that are cloudy cannot tell who you are –
but it was good of you to come sit awhile, watch a man dying.
The night has been a long time going by –
a long time for a fretful old man to fidget between the blankets.
But now that I know I will not see the morning,
one night maybe isn’t such a long time after all.

Suddenly I want to say some last words,
something you could write down and be proud to have heard.
You could say, “I was there when the old man died. He said------”
- if you weren’t nodding a head too heavy, too long watching,
if you weren’t snoring, dreaming on the windowpane -.
“Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough already.”
Well, Marx, old man, you said more than enough.
But me --- have I ever said anything worth saying in my whole life?

I feel my eyelids slipping --
not the withered, fleshy ones against the wet lens,
but the ones under, up against the Being, cutting off
the shapes of this dingy room and the candle flickering on the wall.
I also can’t hear the quiet anymore. No soundlessness of the death-watch
and the middle of the night. Instead, there is this splashing on rocks,
so close I can feel that the mist of the waterfall is cold,
but still blurred in with the fading dark.

I have been a long time dreaming
but this is not like the world blacking out,
but like the glass darkly is getting thinner,
the veil keeping me in dreams falling off.
The stuff of Afterwards doesn’t bubble into the picture
through a screen of boiling water so as to make you not-sure it’s real
like in the movies. Oh, there is water - only water you can touch
and splash fingers in and slurp cold over the dry tongue.

I cannot see you anymore -- you by the window --
the realness of this waterfall has closed in over you.
But I know you could still hear me if you weren’t so fast asleep,
because right in the middle of the plunging white
still flutters that pathetic candle that called itself a light.
God, if he could see this light dumping over the mountains like a million suns,
feel this sharp infusion of aliveness!
Man, you would never, never sleep again.

Funny, I am not looking for them –
for the girl with the finger that wears my band of gold,
for the woman with the smile that the cancer took away
while a little boy watched it, begged her not to go.
The little boy is not looking for his two buried babies.
Instead I am wondering what exactly is a man with no last words worth saying
supposed to say to a very busy Judge trying him for murder.
And I’m guessing nothing.

You by the window,
giving in to the clock and the still night,
when you pass from that dream you’re in to the next one,
find my clumsy heart still beneath the sheets, thank you.
It was good of you to sit awhile, watch a man waking up,
eyelids slipping right wide open.

Bryana J.
all rights reserved

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Hound of Heaven

He put a hound on you - I asked Him to -
an animal with gasping, wild breath,
and groping teeth and lunging, starving eyes,
and he will catch you, it's as sure as death.

Two miles from town and by the clock of night
1:00 in the morning, we found prints of yours
tracking the snow with frightened sneaker-feet
and followed them right to the bolted door.

By windowlight I saw your silhouette,
made out your shape, your blackness, in that room
"Snap leashes! Subject bolting for the door!"
and all His dogs came raging after you.

We watch you jerk through darkness from the steps,
and hurtle over winterfallen white
after you they come like bullet bursts
and howls curdle blood and chill the night.

Your sleeping days are over - you will run,
your sitting-down time gone - you will pound feet.
We love you and the only way to show
it, is to free you from your sultry peace.

The world rolled out before you - you have room
Press hard heels into firm dirt - you can run,
You have a lifetime to attempt escape.
Go for it - let us know when you are done.

You will not tear forever over fields,
and up the rocks and crannies of the walls
You will not run the circle of the world
unending - someday you will trip and fall.

You will wear tired and you will miss steps
someday toes slide and you will feel the ledge
His hounds will find your flesh and meet their teeth
through frenzied skin, and drag you from the edge.

I told Him softly, “I have one I love,
one distant and one orphaned from the day.
Maybe you could send a couple dogs
To take him down and bring him in someday?”

by Bryana Joy

(all rights reserved)