24 Mar 2009

Engrossed with living words

When she read my Twitter tweet (is that how you put it?) for this past weekend, my friend Sarah quipped on my Facebook (see how remarkably IT literate I am for an old chook?):
"So I can just imagine you browsing around the city shops and then coming across a beautiful vintage book shop...you step in like you stepped out of time and get totally engrossed with living words!!!"
She's right, of course, Sarah knows me pretty well...

I was actually quite restrained, though, and arrived home with only two new purchases for our bookshelves. It would be difficult to find a more disparate pair of books than these, though. I'll describe them to you.

I found the first in one of my favourite secondhand book shops, Grub Street Bookstore, in Brunswick Street Fitzroy, one of my favourite streets. (While you're looking at the streetscape on the linked site, see if you can find two of my other faves: Basilisk Bookshop and The Brunswick Street Bookstore.) You'll also notice that Grub Street Bookshop is next to Trampoline...yum. We went there too.

Snap back to present...anyway, my first new book...

It is a beautiful 1928 edition of Christina Rossetti's Poetical Works, a collection of her poems "professedly or proximately complete", collected and edited by Christina's brother, William Michael, ten years after her death.

It contains the whole of Sing-Song, her children's nursery rhyme book published in 1872 as well as a number of other poems written for children. It also contains her first published poem, Goblin Market, a complex poem that is interpreted by scholars to be variously an allegory about temptation and salvation; a commentary on Victorian gender roles and feminism or a work about erotic desire and redemption. W. M. Rossetti maintains that his sister wrote this poem for children and did not mean anything profound by it at all, although he goes on to say this:
Still, the incidents are such as to be at any rate suggestive, and different minds may be likely to read different messages into them. I find at times that people do not see the central point of the story, such as the authoress intended it: and she has expressed it too, but perhaps not with due emphasis. The foundation of the narrative is this: That the goblins tempts women to eat their delicious but uncanny fruits; that a first taste produces as rabid craving for a second taste; but that the second taste is never accorded, and in default of it, the woman pines away and dies. Then comes the central point: Laura having tasted the fruits once, and being at death's door through inability to get a second taste, her sister Lizzie determines to save her at all hazards; so she goes to the goblins, refuses to eat their fruits, and beguiles them into forcing the fruits upon her with so much insistency that her face is all smeared and steeped with the juices; she gets Laura to kiss and suck these juices off her face, and Laura having thus obtained the otherwise impossible second taste, rapidly recovers.
You can call me naïve, but I think that I can read that to my young daughter as a mere fairytale with a moral, with no fear of corrupting her tender mind. I'm going to try anyway, as part of our AO poetry later in the year, when Christina Rossetti's poetry is listed in AO2 Term 3.

Here's the beginning - wadda ya think?:
Goblin Market

Christina Rossetti

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
'Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
All ripe together
In summer weather,-
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.'

Christina Rossetti converted to Anglo-Catholicism, along with her mother and sister, when she was in her teens. My new book contains many of her devotional poems. Although I question some of her theology, much of this poetry is quite beautiful.

Here's a short one for Lent:

Christina Rossetti

It is good to be last not first,
Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
So it be for righteousness.
It is good to spend and be spent,
It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent
So it leads us to Easter Day.
So, from the sublime to the ridiculous, here's book two...

I bought this one new from one of Melbourne's most wonderful independent bookshops, Hill of Content (gotta love the name, as well as the sentiment behind it... I wonder if my love of books will ever be content?) It's on Bourke Street Hill in the City.

The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse is a book of my childhood. I wonder what happened to the copy I had then - it certainly wasn't as pristine as the copy I bought on Saturday...perhaps it was consigned to the rubbish bin.

Anyhow, my brother and sister and I didn't just read this book as kids - we dreamed it - we lived it. We imagined up all sorts of adventures and acted them out. We didn't have helium balloons - ours were the type that responded to gravity, but to us this idea of a balloon floating high in the air was almost magical. Even today, red balloons are the best.

I think this book qualifies as a living book, although rereading it as an adult, I'm not sure why and how it captures so completely a child's imagination. The book is really the book of the film, Le Ballon Rouge, written and directed by Lamorisse in 1957 and staring his 5-year-old son Pascal as the young boy. The words are no longer inspiring to me as an adult, but somehow, they continue to entrance the younger generation, and Jemimah is as enamoured of the book now as I was then. For her, the best bit is all of the balloons coming at the end and whisking Pascal off on his journey around the world.

(Which, of course makes me think she'll love the new Pixar offering, Up):

There's something about the things we remember from childhood that make things special, that certain nostalgia thing. I hope you love The Red Balloon as much as I did...and I do...and Jemimah does...and maybe so will her children...

I wonder if she'll remember Up the same way?


  1. Goblim's market.. we are on our way with our purses stocked with coins and our tummies empty and ready for sweet berries and fruits....mmm yum!!! What an enchanting poem! Early this year I ordered her book but have not been able to get it.

  2. Of course the Red Ballon is a living book--becuase it was living to you. I fully believe enthusiasm and wonderful, warm memories can transform the most mundane things into living literature. My favorite childhood book was bought at the grocery store after I was brave at the dentist. No really lovely art, no really beautiful words, but I LOVED that book! My kids liked when I read it to them, too, because of the stories that went with it!

  3. Jeanne, I managed to get a copy of The Red Balloon from a used books website here in NZ. I'll let you know how my girls enjoy it!
    Nice to have someone else in the southern hemishpere thinking about autumn too :-)

  4. We adore The Red Balloon as well! I've got Christina Rossetti on my list now as I head to the Berkshire Athenaeum's used book sale tonight.

    I feel like I have my own CM consultant - thanks Jeanne!


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