Sunday, April 08, 2007

Three books: How my world was changed by the inner goodness of man.

The incredible anticant has opened a thread on three books that changed my world. With 72 hours to answer at the time of his posting, meaning I have already lost sixteen or so, I haven't the time to think forever; also, in matters such as these, there is something to be said for gut-reaction answers. Methinks. So:

The Diary of Anne Frank
Animal Farm

and, I shall cheat some, a poem rather than a book:

The Tomb at Akr Caar, by Ezra Loomis Pound.

Allow me to explain. Both the Anne Frank and Animal Farm were slipped to me, as an unsuspecting ca. six-year-old, by my (most unusual) maternal gran. Anne Frank became a hero, an object of identification, which infatuation lead me to be the most-knowledgable-on-the-Holocaust ca. seven-year-old Finnish girl I ever met. I wrote my diary for a good few years addressed to Anne. Animal Farm, on the other hand, I read not only because my gran gave it to me, but also because it had animals on the cover (a fine enough reason, don't you think). I remember the growing sense of "hang on a minute, there's more to this than meets the eye, this is not just about a bunch of pigs dogs and horses" my child's mind experienced during the read. Needless to say, I read both of these books countless times.

And on to the Pound poem. (I have found it quite tricky to find a suitable online site to link to, so shall stick the poem in its entirety at the end of this post.) My mother used to read and recite poetry to me probably while I was still in nappies, and she didn't stop at nursery rhymes. She had a wonderful collection of a thousand years of Western poetry Tuhat laulujen vuotta (a thousand years of song), with the original on the left-hand page and the Finnish translation on the right. She read plenty to me from that, but the Pound poem wasn't (still isn't) one she cares for. I know it to be the first poem for certain which I discovered for myself - again, at around the age of five - six. The visual imagery the piece gave me was incredible.

So. I have chosen these three works of writing based on the fact I read them before entering formal schooling (starts at seven in Finland). In a short autobiography which opens a collection of her short stories, Marina Tsvetayeva writes: "Everything I have loved, I have started to love by the age of seven, after that, nothing. At the age of forty-seven, I would say that all I was meant to know, I got to know by the age of seven, the subsequent forty years I have spent learning to understand it." (translated from the Finnish translation of the Russian original by yours truly - Tsvetayeva refers to her early-and-for-ever loves, reading at four, writing at five). I would agree on the importance of early interest and influence. For the life of me, I cannot think of books read later in life that would have been as formative to me. Anne F. gave me a near-physically-experienced abhorrence of oppression. Animal Farm gave me a healthy sense of mistrust, both in the surface-level appearance of writing, and in ideologies. The Pound poem set poetry as something that has always been a part of my life, even in the non-intellectual years of punk. I was much older when, to my horror, I discovered Pound had been accused of anti-semitic sympathies or even Nazi collaboration. It was a discovery so against my liking I never really looked into the facts. You may want to enlighten me.

Anticant's thread also suggests listing, as an optional extra, a fourth, imaginary book you would've wanted to be influenced by. In keeping with the conceptual continuity of my other three choices, I would've liked to have read (before age seven) Anne Frank's post-Holocaust, post-Auschwitz collection of poetry, "(I Still Believe in) The Inner Goodness of Man".

The Tomb at Akr Caar

"I am thy soul, Nikoptis. I have watched
These five millenia, and thy dead eyes
Moved not, nor ever answer my desire,
And thy light limbs, wherethrough I leapt aflame,
Burn not with me nor any saffron thing.

See, the light grass sprang up to pillow thee,
And kissed thee with a myriad grassy tongues;
But not thou me.
I have read out the gold upon the wall,
And wearied out my thought upon the signs.
And there is no new thing in all this place.

I have been kind. See I have left the jars sealed,
Lest thou shouldst wake and whimper for thy wine.
And all thy robes I have kept smooth on thee.

O thou unmindful! How should I forget!
--Even the river many days ago,
The river? thou wast over young.
And three souls came upon Thee--
And I came.
And I flowed in upon thee, beat them off;
I have been intimate with thee, known thy ways.
Have I not touched thy palms and finger-tips,
Flowed in, and through thee and about thy heels?
How 'came I in'? Was I not thee and Thee?

And no sun comes to rest me in this place,
And I am torn against the jagged dark,
And no light beats upon me, and you say
No word, day after day.

Oh! I could get me out, despite the marks
And all their crafty work upon the door,
Out through the glass-green fields. . . .

* * * *

Yet it is quiet here:
I do not go."

Ezra Loomis Pound


Kanikoski said...

Right with you there on Animal Farm, Anna MR. Though I have to admit, it was the moo-cows on the cover that put me off reading it until a bit later in life. When I had grown enough to appreciate the irony of the moo-cow, naturally. Heh!

Anna MR said...

Thank god you're back, Kani, nobody else has wanted/dared/bothered/thought it worthwhile(/even to read this post/) to comment here. Was it/I so crap?!

Your Ljubljana pictures look v. beautiful, by the way.

Kanikoski said...

Ah, well. It was the little space of peace and quiet that made me think it might be safe to pop out.

Thanks, I'll get all the pics up in the next week, I hope.

Anna MR said...

You know, Kanikoski, you are braver than you think. See my comment to the orgasm post. You need not think you should hide in in spaces of peace and quiet to pop out - consider this my professional opinion.

Kanikoski said...

Hell, yeah! I can even spell clitoris!

Anna MR said...

...a lot more than many men can do with the said organ