First sight of Philip Larkin
Lambs learning to walk in the snow
When their bleats darken the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Just a sunless shine.
Newly stumbling back and forth
Everything they find, out of the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.
While they wait beside the sheep,
Her wet fleeces lie there
Hidden around them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They couldn’t grasp it if they knew,
What will soon wake up and grow
This little lyric by 20th-century English poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985) is perhaps one that gives us courage as we look forward to the uncertain year ahead, perhaps feeling very much like the lambs, meeting “a vast importunate”. But in the second stanza we have the promise – ‘….there is / hidden around them, waiting also, / Earth’s immeasurable surprise.’
Amidst all the unknowns and uncertainties of the coming year, Covid still with us, the threats of climate change, the challenges to our humanity posed by the mistreated of the world, we are blessed as a community to be able to look to our library, a place, in the words of TS Eliot “at the still point of the spinning world… where the past and the future are united”. This, the start of a new year, seems like the perfect time to review what awaits us in the library’s programs, to celebrate the wealth of talent with which this community is blessed, and to take a moment to acknowledge the generosity of so many people who are eager to share this talent with us.
Here are some of the offerings for 2022 in our Sunday Night Speaker Series:
Stonington Resident Professor Stuart Vyse, a behavioral scientist, teacher and author of many books, has a knack for presenting complex topics in a way that is both scholarly and entertaining. Many will remember his very informative lecture last year on his book “Superstition: A Very Short Introduction”, so we look forward to welcoming him back on March 13 when he will give a lecture, in conjunction with the Stonington Historical Society, on the history of The Steamboat Hotel, a Gold Street house in the borough whose fascinating history he has studied over the past few years.
Then in August, Professor Vyse will discuss his latest book, ‘The Uses of Illusion: Why It’s Not Always Rational to Be Rational’, which will be published by Oxford University Press in May.
In April, to celebrate Poetry Month, we have two poetry programs. The first, on April 10, will be a reading by former Merrill Fellow, poet and biographer Peter Filkins from his new book of poems “Water/Music.” Before the pandemic, Peter gave a talk to a large audience at the La Grua Center on his biography of HG Adler, Holocaust survivor and renowned author.
We are very grateful to him for agreeing to return to Stonington to read in the library. As for many years, this April program is a collaboration with Maison Merrill.
The second, on April 24, will be Kenneth Bleeth presenting a show on Chaucer. A neighbor of Stonington, scholar of Chaucer, and Professor Emeritus of Medieval Studies at Connecticut College, Professor Bleeth has devoted his life to the study of Chaucer, and it is hard to imagine anyone more qualified to share with us the riches of “The Canterbury Tales”.
Here are the familiar, seasonal opening lines of the general prologue:
When this Aprill with his shoures soot
The droghte of March has pierced to the root,
And bathed every vein in a little liquor
Whose begotten virtue is flour;
Whan Zephyrus eek with his sweet breath
Inspired a in every holt and heeth
The tender croppes, and the yonge rings
To have in Aries his half course yronne,
Chaucer’s view of Larkin’s “immeasurable surprise to Earth” some 600 years earlier!
On May 8, we move from poetry to a close cousin, the visual arts. Our guide will be another friend and neighbor of the Library, the eminent professor of English literature, author and art critic, Willard Spiegelman. The title of his talk is “How I Became an Art Critic by Watching,” a description of his time writing about art for the Wall Street Journal in the weekend arts and entertainment section. Several of his essays were published in his book “If You See Something, Say Something”.
As Harvard literature professor and painter Peter Sacks has written, “He brings a literary scholar’s gift for close reading to what might be called ‘close gazing’.”
Which is a perfect segue into our July 10 show on Elizabeth Bishop, once described by Robert Lowell as the “famous-eyed” poetess. Stonington resident Jonathan Post, Emeritus Research Professor at UCLA and recognized author of numerous books and studies on 17th and 20th century poets, will discuss his new book on the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, his second in the series. Oxford’s Very Short Introduction. His study of “Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Poems”, published in 2017, was called a “little gem” in the TLS, and in 2019 he generously gave an illustrated PowerPoint lecture in the library on the sonnets.
The February book notes will be dedicated to Elizabeth Bishop, her birthday month, and will include a discussion with Professor Post which will highlight not only Elizabeth Bishop’s connection to Stonington during her lifetime, but how this community got involved in the writing. of the book, keeping this most beloved poet a living presence among us today.
(Most library lectures and programs can be viewed on YouTube).
As you see, we have much to look forward to, ‘What so soon will wake up and grow / Quite different from snow.’ I wish you, with all my heart, a happy New Year, full of hope and health. Thanks to you and your generous support, the library will continue to serve the community and enrich our lives as it always has.
Belinda de Kay is Director Emeritus of the Stonington Free Library.