Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christmas countdown...

Can't believe December is (almost) here already.

There is always something magical about a million dazzling Christmas lights against the velvet blackness of a wintry sky. One cannot help but admire the sight of all these lovely twirling twinkles - however gaudy, and all environmental scruples aside...

There is something strangely comforting about the military precision required to keep track of all the checklists and to-do lists - to make the card-mailing deadlines, to make use of this-weekend-only bargains, to find the most fantastic outfits, to get all Christmas groceries ordered, to decorate the house just-so, and not forgetting to keep one's gifts wrapped and hidden...

There is even something awe-inspiring about the insane mad rush, as both shops and shoppers conspire to achieve that impossible dream of giving the right gift - a material token of your complex feelings to those you love and care, and even to those you simply like to give the impression that you care... (At least this year, thanks to the global financial meltdown, there's no longer talk of having to get "stocking-fillers" as well as proper pressies).

There is, at the end of the day, something genuinely touching about the sheer effort and industry expended by the entire human race in this holiday season - even as we complain about its utter pointlessness and wastage, and even if all the frenzy and panic are merely induced by cynical commercialism...

For the collective human race has for millenia decreed that the darkest winter nights should not translate as a time of withdrawal and resignation - of hibernating in our own little caves, of people being left to their own devices, of saving what little we have to try to outlast the bitter, bitter cold...

No! The spirit of Christmas (or more to the point the tradition surrounding the winter solstice rather than the celebration of the birth of Christ per se) is about creating ONE BIG ALMIGHTY FUSS - to remind us all that we won't ever, EVER, however tempted, go gentle into that good night...

Even if all we have to fight away the winter gloom are our very own feeble artificial lights...

Merry Christmas. (It's early, I know. But hope this finds you well wherever you are.)

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Thursday, November 20, 2008



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Monday, November 17, 2008

Insider-Outsider... Part Deux

I am not one of those people who could proudly say that there have never been any regrets in their lives. In fact, I had many. One of them was to do with not being able to apply to L'Oreal's graduate recruitment programme when I was fresh out of university.

I went to their recruitment fair with a couple of my college best friends, and we were all very impressed by their presentation and by the down-to-earth personalities of their senior managers. It really seemed like a fun and decent place to work.

For me especially, I was very heartened by one of the qualities that this French company looked for in their applicants: biculturalism. I was mentally jumping up and down with joy when I read that in their graduate recruitment brochure, thinking to myself, "How cool is a company that not only appreciates, but actively promotes, the value of its staff having multiple cultural backgrounds?"

My friends and I all vowed that we would apply to the company. But things turned out differently for all of us.

I ended up with a full scholarship to America, something that I only applied on a lark, but it turned out I hit the jackpot. My friend decided to pursue a Masters at a prestigious local school before hitting the job market, and the other friend decided to go travelling for a year before settling down into the world of work.

In short, none of us applied to L'Oreal in the end.

When I came back from the States, I just missed the milk round, so I applied to whatever openings there were and ended up working for a German company. We spent weeks training in this remote picturesque town in the middle of nowhere in Hessen (which was three long train-rides from the Frankfurt airport!), where one of the trainers was especially fond of telling off-colour, even border-line racist jokes about people with different cultural backgrounds.

Thankfully he was only a trainer, not my actual superiors. But the fact that a person with that kind of attitude could be put in charge of training thousands upon thousands of staff from all over the world, spoke volumes about the actual corporate values of the company.

It was since then that I occasionally couldn't help but wonder, what if I have given up my scholarship and have worked for L'Oreal instead? What would my life path - and with it, my perspective on life - have been like instead?

* * *

Before I went to the States, all my friends said I would have an absolute ball in New York, and a couple of them were planning for trips to come visit me, so envious were they of the opportunity I was going to have to experience the Big Apple. Needless to say, my own expectations were extremely high also.

I remember stepping into the streets of NYC for the first time. I was gobsmacked. So many Chinese people. So many skyscrapers. It was almost like I stepped into Hong Kong. During the first orientation session, I befriended an Australian woman and a Japanese girl, and I was already loving the experience of being an international student in a foreign land.

Over time, I made friends with people from all walks of life, with all sorts of cultural backgrounds. But I noticed certain things. I began to realise that there were two different types of young Chinese college students in New York: the first group consisted of those recently immigrated from Hong Kong, and they tended to socialise among themselves and seldom used conversational English in their day-to-day life; the other group were American-born Chinese, who jested with each other easily and naturally in English, it being their mother-tongue.

The curious thing for me was this - these two groups didn't really mix socially. I couldn't help but wonder why, but to this day, I still don't quite know the answer.

But I do remember feeling a bit cheated in life somehow, as I couldn't (still can't actually) believe that people could live in an English-speaking country but manage to survive (even thrive) without having to grasp the dominant language.

In fact, my long-held impression that Hong Kong people have a superior command of English vis-a-vis other East-Asians was shattered after my stay in New York. Based only on a convenient sample of my friends and acquaintances at that time, my impression was that Taiwanese, Koreans and Singaporeans have much better English than Hong Kongers.

I was feeling so envious, thinking to myself, Geez, if only my parents have decided to move to America instead of Ireland, then I wouldn't have to spend so much time - more accurately, blood sweat and tears - mastering the English language...

But of course, English became my new love, despite the fact that I still believe proper Chinese to be the most beautiful language in the world. And on reflection, I am grateful for my parents' decision to bring us here.

Before I moved to the States, I idealised the Big Apple and other big cities like it. But afterwards, I realised that, despite all its faults (and there are many), Ireland suited my temperament much better than any other country I have come to know.

* * *

When I came back to Ireland after my sojourn in New York, I was in for another shock: all of a sudden there were many Mainland Chinese people in the streets of Dublin.

The difference between before I left and after I came back was startling - suddenly cafe counters were manned by young Chinese students, the girl behind the coat-check in the night-club was Chinese, pint-glasses in pubs were cleared away by young Chinese fellows, and there was even a Chinese woman busker on Grafton Street!

I was shocked, and I have to admit, dismayed. Not so much because of the fact that there are now many Chinese people who make Ireland their home, but because they were mostly - and still are, to a large extent - represented in low-ranking, menial and casual jobs.

For instance, for the longest time, I was embarrassed to come upon the Chinese woman busker on Grafton Street at night, whose routine consisted of doing a Chinese dance wearing very flimsy clothes even when it was freezing cold at night (I mean, it wouldn't have been so bad if she busked in broad daylight like the majority of buskers, but her flimsy dress and the fact that she chose to perform only at night seemed to indicate that she was "selling" something else). It was demeaning to watch the drunks jeered at her admittedly dismal performance.

As a person who has for years been mentally carrying the responsibility of being a quasi-ambassador for Hong Kong, I feel both shame and anger at the Chinese woman for reducing our culture to a mere sideshow for drunks and selling it for a pittance. (Even though I know she couldn't help it as it was probably the only way she could scrape a living in rip-off Dublin).

Prior to the waves of immigration from Mainland China in recent years, the small Chinese community in Ireland for decades past was mostly originated from Hong Kong. They were mainly in the restaurant and takeaway business, but, unlike their counterparts in the UK, they did not choose to stick with each other and congregate together to form a Chinatown.

No, they scattered far and wide, opening a small family-run take-away or a restaurant here or there, in small towns and villages across the length and breadth of Ireland. Apparently this made good business sense, as it meant that they wouldn't have to compete with each other for customers.

But on a deeper level, there was also another logic at work here: that the Chinese families would by necessity be integrated into the local Irish community.

When I first came here, I was the only foreign student in the entire school. This had tremendous advantages -- my school friends got to know me, rather than knowing me as just "one of the overseas students"; my teachers saw me as their pet, and gave me special treatment out of indulgence, rather than because they were mandated to support a group of foreign-born students with special needs in an already crowded classroom.

In that environment, my younger brother and I were given room to explore and develop our personalities in tandem with our peers as we grew up. We weren't simply conceived as "one of the others", precisely because there weren't enough of "us" to be considered as "the others".

It was the same kind of environment that allowed John Rocha to be thought of as an "Irish" designer, even though he came originally from Hong Kong.

However, for better or for worse, that seems now to be a quaint, bygone age...

* * *

Perhaps I should round off my musings above with this passage from Peter Hoeg's "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow":

On Disko Island in 1981, I helped test the corrosion effects of sea fog on the snaplinks used for safety lines on glacier crossings. We simply hung them up on a cord and came back three months later. They still looked reliable. A little tarnished, but reliable. The manufacturer claimed the breaking strength would be four thousand kilogrammes. It turned out that we could pull them apart with a fingernail. Exposed to a hostile environment, they had disintegrated.

It is through a similar process of deterioration that you lose your language.

When we moved from the village school to Qaanaaq, we had teachers who didn't know one word of Greenlandic, nor did they have any plans to learn it. They told us that, for those who excelled, there would be an admission ticket to Denmark and a degree and a way out of Arctic misery. This golden ascent would take place in Danish. This was when the foundation was being laid for the politics of the sixties. Which led to Greenland officially becoming "Denmark's northernmost county", and the Inuit were officially supposed to be called "Northern Danes" and "be educated to the same rights as all other Danes", as the prime minister put it.

That's how the foundations are laid. Then you arrive in Denmark and six months pass and it feels as if you will never forget your mother tongue. It's the language you think in, the way you remember your past. Then you meet a Greenlander on the street. You exchange a few words. And suddenly you have to search for a completely ordinary word. Another six months pass. A girlfriend takes you along to the Greenlanders' House on Lov Lane. That's where you discover that your own Greenlandic can be picked apart with a fingernail.

* * *

This post was inspired by a number of recent and not-so-recent posts/discussions on other blogs. In all cases, the bloggers concerned have been extremely kind to indulge me spouting nonsense or spilling my guts on their comment pages. I'm humbled by their politeness and tolerance, as I am not sure I would be similarly patient if I have been in their shoes. I shall learn not to do that again in future - in fact, I shall even put it as one of my new year's resolutions.

On ReadandEat
On Orangutan House
On Petiteinote
On Toffeeland

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Insider-Outsider...

Please don't put me into a pigeonhole
I am too big to fit into a convenient box
I am not either-or
I want to tick all of the above
Why won't you let me?

Please don't objectify me with a label
I am too complicated to be pinned
Down by just nationality or race
Even if you insert a hyphen
Why won't you let me be?

Please don't look down on me
Just because I am not considered "pure breed"
Your superiority and sanctimony
Have neither logical nor empirical basis
Why won't you face it?

I am done with pleading,
I am done with explaining.
I am who I am.
If you need a label to understand me,
Then you won't ever understand me.

And that would be your loss.

For my little sister and little brother.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, may you never be judged by the colour of your skin, but by the content of your character.

(c) Snowdrops 2008. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

My demons...

For the last few days, I have been haunted by a nightmare.

In it, I was running a class session using the group discussion format. At the end, during the class debrief, when I was trying to help the class tease out some conclusions from their small group debates, a middle-aged balding Chinese man with combed-over style oily hair, who seldom spoke but who always regarded me with a critical look, rose up and spluttered indignantly and loudly, in Mainland-Chinese-accented English, "You are not doing your job!!!!"

He went on and on about how I don't teach anything in class, how he didn't learn anything from my class, and how my course represents a complete waste of his money.

In the dream, I took a deep breath, and told him simply, "College is not just about reading textbooks." After a pause, the rest of class applauded my answer.

I broke into a cold sweat on waking. Although it might seem as if I had the final word in the dream, I could never forget the Chinese man's look of disgust on his face.

It's really curious as I have never had any East-Asians in my class before, not to mention a specifically Mainland Chinese student. And I have never seen anyone in real life who looks like the Chinese man in my nightmare.

But what he said haunted me deeply.

Especially as I was running a workshop the next day with our new class.

And in spite of the amount of preparation I did and the fact that I had run similar sessions many times before, with very productive discussions and positive student feedback, this time, the session didn't quite work out.

I was flustered, I forgot my usual talking points, I didn't quite manage to bring out the essence of the students' contributions, and I couldn't explain my lecture notes very well. In short, I felt like Sarah Palin, in a particularly bad Katie Couric interview clip.

There was no applause at the end of the session, only some students looking lost, some looking bewildered, and some with a pitying smile on their faces - the same kind of pitying smile I would give to a struggling lecturer in my days as a student.

I had had my fair share of challenges in class when I first started out. But I always managed to win over the students in the end.

This time, I'm not so sure.

Even worse, I feel like an absolute fraud. And for the first time, I feel like packing it in.

I don't think I could muster up the self-belief necessary for my next performance (teaching is a performative art, after all).

The saving grace is, my next session is with a totally new group from another course. Let see if I could wipe the slate clean then.

Anyway, the sun has come out now. Today is a lovely, lovely, gorgeously bright day. I should take heart in that. I'm so grateful that this is the weekend already.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations America!!

For eight long, long, long years, we citizens in the rest of the world have seen America's promise degenerated into this...


But finally, finally enough of you Americans have realised that...


And you have all courageously gone out there...




And fulfilled your duty as a citizen of both your country and the world...




And THIS TIME, you didn't disappoint the rest of us...





Congratulations America!

You finally did the right thing!




Cartoon: Steve Bell at the Guardian.



Thank you thank you thank you :)


Photo credits: The Guardian Election Night Pictures

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Poetry in Motion...

One of the most recent episodes of the new series of Desperate Housewives I've managed to catch had this hilarious exchange between Lynette and her husband Tom (for non-DH fans, this particular exchange stemmed from an Oedipal sub-plot whereby Lynette was pretending to be a young attractive 16-year-old girl chatting to her teenage son online so as to find out what he was up to, as they no longer talk properly in person as mother and son, but she got so bound up with her online alter ego that of course, hilarity and domestic disaster ensued), where Tom scolds Lynette on finding out that his son sent her a love note on foot of being told by Lynette's teenage alter-ego that she loves his poetry:

Tom: You told a teenage boy that you liked his poetry?! Geez, Lynette, why not just flash him a boob??

I couldn't stop laughing at this brilliant line. Having never met a teenage boy who wrote poetry when I was a teenager, I had never had the chance to find out if this alleged aphrodisiac effect of praising a teenage boy's poetry is really true in practice. However, being a girl who has been into poetry since her childhood years, I would have been mighty impressed if a boy could cite W.B. Yeats (those poems outside of the Leaving Cert syllabus, that is), which was what Lynette's son did to impress his "girl" online (who turned out to be his own mother of course, and Tom's reaction on finding out Lynette's awful pretense is equally priceless as well: "Do you want to stop it now before Porter kills me and blinds himself?" Another brilliantly-done literary reference).

I just love, love, love it when movies and shows contain literary references, especially poetic ones. To add to my series of recent posts about poetry, and inspired by the recent movie reviews by Lu, Mad Dog and Yun, I'd like to talk a little about the use of poetry in motion pictures.

I've noticed that quite a few of my favourite films are my favourites precisely because they quote lines from some of the most heart-breakingly beautiful poetry out there. A prime example of this is the movie In Her Shoes, a deceptively-cheerful but in reality a real tearjerker of a movie with surprising depth. It contains several touching scenes the emotional resonances of which pivot around some brilliant lines of exquisite poetry. It also has one of my all-time favourite English professor character and all the poems used in the movie are not only beautiful in themselves, but beautiful in the way they served as key plot points in the story. Lu has already blogged about the e.e. cummings poem, "I carry your heart", used at the final wedding scene. However, the poem that caught my breath in this movie is the one that the English professor first taught Maggie (Cameron Diaz's character), Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art":

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

---Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Another movie that others (Mad Dog and Yun) have recently blogged about, Before Sunrise, is a movie that I also love very much (but which is not as good as its sequel, Before Sunset), one of the major reasons being that it featured an actual poet as a character (one of the many interesting characters that Jesse and Celine met during their memorable sojourn in quaint Vienna). The poet in question is a bum on the street who wrote on-the-spot poems for passing pedestrians for cigarettes and drinks money.

(I must say, if one day I'm so down and out that I have to choose between being a pavement painter and a street-bum poet as a career option, I'd rather be the latter. At least you know that the poem you wrote wouldn't be washed away by street-cleaners the next day but would have a chance to be actually kept or even cherished by a person).

Anyway, in the movie, the poem that he came up with for Celine (with her suggested word, "milkshake", as a starting point) was actually not bad. Only when I looked up the movie on Wikipedia did I realise that the poem was specifically written for the film by the poet David Jewell, and is entitled, "Delusion Angel":

Delusion Angel

Daydream delusion, limousine eyelash
Oh baby with your pretty face
Drop a tear in my wineglass
Look at those big eyes
See what you mean to me
Sweet-cakes and milkshakes
I'm a delusion angel
I'm a fantasy parade
I want you to know what I think
Don't want you to guess anymore
You have no idea where I came from
We have no idea where we're going
Lodged in life, like branches in a river
Flowing downstream, caught in the current
I carry you
You'll carry me
That's how it could be
Don't you know me?
Don't you know me by now?

But the film that really stole my heart with its poetry and assorted literary references, the one whose title even came from a line of a famous poem, is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This movie is my all-time favourite (at least of all English-language movies I've seen) not only because of its poetry and literary references though, but also because of the heart-breaking story-line, the clever dialogue, the superb performances, and the whimsical cinematography of Michel Gondry. But I shall concentrate only on the poetry and the literary references in this post.

The poem referenced by the movie title is "Eloisa to Abelard" by Alexander Pope, a lengthy epistle inspired by the letters exchanged between Heloise and Abelard, a pair of 12th-century real-life star-crossed lovers in Paris who were forced to renounce their illicit love and passion for each other, which caused Heloise to lament about the pain of memories and yearning instead for the apparent bliss of the forgetful, which formed the central premise of the film:

Eloisa to Abelard

In these deep solitudes and awful cells,
Where heav'nly-pensive contemplation dwells,
And ever-musing melancholy reigns;
What means this tumult in a vestal's veins?
Why rove my thoughts beyond this last retreat?
Why feels my heart its long-forgotten heat?
Yet, yet I love! — From Abelard it came,
And Eloisa yet must kiss the name.

Dear fatal name! rest ever unreveal'd,
Nor pass these lips in holy silence seal'd.
Hide it, my heart, within that close disguise,
Where mix'd with God's, his lov'd idea lies:
O write it not, my hand — the name appears
Already written — wash it out, my tears!
In vain lost Eloisa weeps and prays,
Her heart still dictates, and her hand obeys.

Relentless walls! whose darksome round contains
Repentant sighs, and voluntary pains:
Ye rugged rocks! which holy knees have worn;
Ye grots and caverns shagg'd with horrid thorn!
Shrines! where their vigils pale-ey'd virgins keep,
And pitying saints, whose statues learn to weep!
Though cold like you, unmov'd, and silent grown,
I have not yet forgot myself to stone.
All is not Heav'n's while Abelard has part,
Still rebel nature holds out half my heart;
Nor pray'rs nor fasts its stubborn pulse restrain,
Nor tears, for ages, taught to flow in vain.

Soon as thy letters trembling I unclose,
That well-known name awakens all my woes.
Oh name for ever sad! for ever dear!
Still breath'd in sighs, still usher'd with a tear.
I tremble too, where'er my own I find,
Some dire misfortune follows close behind.
Line after line my gushing eyes o'erflow,
Led through a sad variety of woe:
Now warm in love, now with'ring in thy bloom,
Lost in a convent's solitary gloom!
There stern religion quench'd th' unwilling flame,
There died the best of passions, love and fame.

Yet write, oh write me all, that I may join
Griefs to thy griefs, and echo sighs to thine.
Nor foes nor fortune take this pow'r away;
And is my Abelard less kind than they?
Tears still are mine, and those I need not spare,
Love but demands what else were shed in pray'r;
No happier task these faded eyes pursue;
To read and weep is all they now can do.

Then share thy pain, allow that sad relief;
Ah, more than share it! give me all thy grief.
Heav'n first taught letters for some wretch's aid,
Some banish'd lover, or some captive maid;
They live, they speak, they breathe what love inspires,
Warm from the soul, and faithful to its fires,
The virgin's wish without her fears impart,
Excuse the blush, and pour out all the heart,
Speed the soft intercourse from soul to soul,
And waft a sigh from Indus to the Pole.

Thou know'st how guiltless first I met thy flame,
When Love approach'd me under Friendship's name;
My fancy form'd thee of angelic kind,
Some emanation of th' all-beauteous Mind.
Those smiling eyes, attemp'ring ev'ry day,
Shone sweetly lambent with celestial day.
Guiltless I gaz'd; heav'n listen'd while you sung;
And truths divine came mended from that tongue.
From lips like those what precept fail'd to move?
Too soon they taught me 'twas no sin to love.
Back through the paths of pleasing sense I ran,
Nor wish'd an Angel whom I lov'd a Man.
Dim and remote the joys of saints I see;
Nor envy them, that heav'n I lose for thee.

How oft, when press'd to marriage, have I said,
Curse on all laws but those which love has made!
Love, free as air, at sight of human ties,
Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies,
Let wealth, let honour, wait the wedded dame,
August her deed, and sacred be her fame;
Before true passion all those views remove,
Fame, wealth, and honour! what are you to Love?
The jealous God, when we profane his fires,
Those restless passions in revenge inspires;
And bids them make mistaken mortals groan,
Who seek in love for aught but love alone.
Should at my feet the world's great master fall,
Himself, his throne, his world, I'd scorn 'em all:
Not Caesar's empress would I deign to prove;
No, make me mistress to the man I love;
If there be yet another name more free,
More fond than mistress, make me that to thee!
Oh happy state! when souls each other draw,
When love is liberty, and nature, law:
All then is full, possessing, and possess'd,
No craving void left aching in the breast:
Ev'n thought meets thought, ere from the lips it part,
And each warm wish springs mutual from the heart.
This sure is bliss (if bliss on earth there be)
And once the lot of Abelard and me.

Alas, how chang'd! what sudden horrors rise!
A naked lover bound and bleeding lies!
Where, where was Eloise? her voice, her hand,
Her poniard, had oppos'd the dire command.
Barbarian, stay! that bloody stroke restrain;
The crime was common, common be the pain.
I can no more; by shame, by rage suppress'd,
Let tears, and burning blushes speak the rest.

Canst thou forget that sad, that solemn day,
When victims at yon altar's foot we lay?
Canst thou forget what tears that moment fell,
When, warm in youth, I bade the world farewell?
As with cold lips I kiss'd the sacred veil,
The shrines all trembl'd, and the lamps grew pale:
Heav'n scarce believ'd the conquest it survey'd,
And saints with wonder heard the vows I made.
Yet then, to those dread altars as I drew,
Not on the Cross my eyes were fix'd, but you:
Not grace, or zeal, love only was my call,
And if I lose thy love, I lose my all.
Come! with thy looks, thy words, relieve my woe;
Those still at least are left thee to bestow.
Still on that breast enamour'd let me lie,
Still drink delicious poison from thy eye,
Pant on thy lip, and to thy heart be press'd;
Give all thou canst — and let me dream the rest.
Ah no! instruct me other joys to prize,
With other beauties charm my partial eyes,
Full in my view set all the bright abode,
And make my soul quit Abelard for God.

Ah, think at least thy flock deserves thy care,
Plants of thy hand, and children of thy pray'r.
From the false world in early youth they fled,
By thee to mountains, wilds, and deserts led.
You rais'd these hallow'd walls; the desert smil'd,
And Paradise was open'd in the wild.
No weeping orphan saw his father's stores
Our shrines irradiate, or emblaze the floors;
No silver saints, by dying misers giv'n,
Here brib'd the rage of ill-requited heav'n:
But such plain roofs as piety could raise,
And only vocal with the Maker's praise.
In these lone walls (their days eternal bound)
These moss-grown domes with spiry turrets crown'd,
Where awful arches make a noonday night,
And the dim windows shed a solemn light;
Thy eyes diffus'd a reconciling ray,
And gleams of glory brighten'd all the day.
But now no face divine contentment wears,
'Tis all blank sadness, or continual tears.
See how the force of others' pray'rs I try,
(O pious fraud of am'rous charity!)
But why should I on others' pray'rs depend?
Come thou, my father, brother, husband, friend!
Ah let thy handmaid, sister, daughter move,
And all those tender names in one, thy love!
The darksome pines that o'er yon rocks reclin'd
Wave high, and murmur to the hollow wind,
The wand'ring streams that shine between the hills,
The grots that echo to the tinkling rills,
The dying gales that pant upon the trees,
The lakes that quiver to the curling breeze;
No more these scenes my meditation aid,
Or lull to rest the visionary maid.
But o'er the twilight groves and dusky caves,
Long-sounding aisles, and intermingled graves,
Black Melancholy sits, and round her throws
A death-like silence, and a dread repose:
Her gloomy presence saddens all the scene,
Shades ev'ry flow'r, and darkens ev'ry green,
Deepens the murmur of the falling floods,
And breathes a browner horror on the woods.

Yet here for ever, ever must I stay;
Sad proof how well a lover can obey!
Death, only death, can break the lasting chain;
And here, ev'n then, shall my cold dust remain,
Here all its frailties, all its flames resign,
And wait till 'tis no sin to mix with thine.

Ah wretch! believ'd the spouse of God in vain,
Confess'd within the slave of love and man.
Assist me, Heav'n! but whence arose that pray'r?
Sprung it from piety, or from despair?
Ev'n here, where frozen chastity retires,
Love finds an altar for forbidden fires.
I ought to grieve, but cannot what I ought;
I mourn the lover, not lament the fault;
I view my crime, but kindle at the view,
Repent old pleasures, and solicit new;
Now turn'd to Heav'n, I weep my past offence,
Now think of thee, and curse my innocence.
Of all affliction taught a lover yet,
'Tis sure the hardest science to forget!
How shall I lose the sin, yet keep the sense,
And love th' offender, yet detest th' offence?
How the dear object from the crime remove,
Or how distinguish penitence from love?
Unequal task! a passion to resign,
For hearts so touch'd, so pierc'd, so lost as mine.
Ere such a soul regains its peaceful state,
How often must it love, how often hate!
How often hope, despair, resent, regret,
Conceal, disdain — do all things but forget.
But let Heav'n seize it, all at once 'tis fir'd;
Not touch'd, but rapt; not waken'd, but inspir'd!
Oh come! oh teach me nature to subdue,
Renounce my love, my life, myself — and you.
Fill my fond heart with God alone, for he
Alone can rival, can succeed to thee.

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;

Labour and rest, that equal periods keep;
"Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;"
Desires compos'd, affections ever ev'n,
Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav'n.
Grace shines around her with serenest beams,
And whisp'ring angels prompt her golden dreams.
For her th' unfading rose of Eden blooms,
And wings of seraphs shed divine perfumes,
For her the Spouse prepares the bridal ring,
For her white virgins hymeneals sing,
To sounds of heav'nly harps she dies away,
And melts in visions of eternal day.

Far other dreams my erring soul employ,
Far other raptures, of unholy joy:
When at the close of each sad, sorrowing day,
Fancy restores what vengeance snatch'd away,
Then conscience sleeps, and leaving nature free,
All my loose soul unbounded springs to thee.
Oh curs'd, dear horrors of all-conscious night!
How glowing guilt exalts the keen delight!
Provoking Daemons all restraint remove,
And stir within me every source of love.
I hear thee, view thee, gaze o'er all thy charms,
And round thy phantom glue my clasping arms.
I wake — no more I hear, no more I view,
The phantom flies me, as unkind as you.
I call aloud; it hears not what I say;
I stretch my empty arms; it glides away.
To dream once more I close my willing eyes;
Ye soft illusions, dear deceits, arise!
Alas, no more — methinks we wand'ring go
Through dreary wastes, and weep each other's woe,
Where round some mould'ring tower pale ivy creeps,
And low-brow'd rocks hang nodding o'er the deeps.
Sudden you mount, you beckon from the skies;
Clouds interpose, waves roar, and winds arise.
I shriek, start up, the same sad prospect find,
And wake to all the griefs I left behind.

For thee the fates, severely kind, ordain
A cool suspense from pleasure and from pain;
Thy life a long, dead calm of fix'd repose;
No pulse that riots, and no blood that glows.
Still as the sea, ere winds were taught to blow,
Or moving spirit bade the waters flow;
Soft as the slumbers of a saint forgiv'n,
And mild as opening gleams of promis'd heav'n.

Come, Abelard! for what hast thou to dread?
The torch of Venus burns not for the dead.
Nature stands check'd; Religion disapproves;
Ev'n thou art cold — yet Eloisa loves.
Ah hopeless, lasting flames! like those that burn
To light the dead, and warm th' unfruitful urn.

What scenes appear where'er I turn my view?
The dear ideas, where I fly, pursue,
Rise in the grove, before the altar rise,
Stain all my soul, and wanton in my eyes.
I waste the matin lamp in sighs for thee,
Thy image steals between my God and me,
Thy voice I seem in ev'ry hymn to hear,
With ev'ry bead I drop too soft a tear.
When from the censer clouds of fragrance roll,
And swelling organs lift the rising soul,
One thought of thee puts all the pomp to flight,
Priests, tapers, temples, swim before my sight:
In seas of flame my plunging soul is drown'd,
While altars blaze, and angels tremble round.

While prostrate here in humble grief I lie,
Kind, virtuous drops just gath'ring in my eye,
While praying, trembling, in the dust I roll,
And dawning grace is op'ning on my soul:
Come, if thou dar'st, all charming as thou art!
Oppose thyself to Heav'n; dispute my heart;
Come, with one glance of those deluding eyes
Blot out each bright idea of the skies;
Take back that grace, those sorrows, and those tears;
Take back my fruitless penitence and pray'rs;
Snatch me, just mounting, from the blest abode;
Assist the fiends, and tear me from my God!

No, fly me, fly me, far as pole from pole;
Rise Alps between us! and whole oceans roll!
Ah, come not, write not, think not once of me,
Nor share one pang of all I felt for thee.
Thy oaths I quit, thy memory resign;
Forget, renounce me, hate whate'er was mine.
Fair eyes, and tempting looks (which yet I view!)
Long lov'd, ador'd ideas, all adieu!
Oh Grace serene! oh virtue heav'nly fair!
Divine oblivion of low-thoughted care!
Fresh blooming hope, gay daughter of the sky!
And faith, our early immortality!
Enter, each mild, each amicable guest;
Receive, and wrap me in eternal rest!

See in her cell sad Eloisa spread,
Propp'd on some tomb, a neighbour of the dead.
In each low wind methinks a spirit calls,
And more than echoes talk along the walls.
Here, as I watch'd the dying lamps around,
From yonder shrine I heard a hollow sound.
"Come, sister, come!" (it said, or seem'd to say)
"Thy place is here, sad sister, come away!
Once like thyself, I trembled, wept, and pray'd,
Love's victim then, though now a sainted maid:
But all is calm in this eternal sleep;
Here grief forgets to groan, and love to weep,
Ev'n superstition loses ev'ry fear:
For God, not man, absolves our frailties here."

I come, I come! prepare your roseate bow'rs,
Celestial palms, and ever-blooming flow'rs.
Thither, where sinners may have rest, I go,
Where flames refin'd in breasts seraphic glow:
Thou, Abelard! the last sad office pay,
And smooth my passage to the realms of day;
See my lips tremble, and my eye-balls roll,
Suck my last breath, and catch my flying soul!
Ah no — in sacred vestments may'st thou stand,
The hallow'd taper trembling in thy hand,
Present the cross before my lifted eye,
Teach me at once, and learn of me to die.
Ah then, thy once-lov'd Eloisa see!
It will be then no crime to gaze on me.
See from my cheek the transient roses fly!
See the last sparkle languish in my eye!
Till ev'ry motion, pulse, and breath be o'er;
And ev'n my Abelard be lov'd no more.
O Death all-eloquent! you only prove
What dust we dote on, when 'tis man we love.

Then too, when fate shall thy fair frame destroy,
(That cause of all my guilt, and all my joy)
In trance ecstatic may thy pangs be drown'd,
Bright clouds descend, and angels watch thee round,
From op'ning skies may streaming glories shine,
And saints embrace thee with a love like mine.

May one kind grave unite each hapless name,
And graft my love immortal on thy fame!
Then, ages hence, when all my woes are o'er,
When this rebellious heart shall beat no more;
If ever chance two wand'ring lovers brings
To Paraclete's white walls and silver springs,
O'er the pale marble shall they join their heads,
And drink the falling tears each other sheds;
Then sadly say, with mutual pity mov'd,
"Oh may we never love as these have lov'd!"

From the full choir when loud Hosannas rise,
And swell the pomp of dreadful sacrifice,
Amid that scene if some relenting eye
Glance on the stone where our cold relics lie,
Devotion's self shall steal a thought from Heav'n,
One human tear shall drop and be forgiv'n.
And sure, if fate some future bard shall join
In sad similitude of griefs to mine,
Condemn'd whole years in absence to deplore,
And image charms he must behold no more;
Such if there be, who loves so long, so well;
Let him our sad, our tender story tell;
The well-sung woes will soothe my pensive ghost;
He best can paint 'em, who shall feel 'em most.

In spite of the wealth of exquisite verse in this lengthy poem (my favourite lines include: "Soon as thy letters trembling I unclose,/ That well-known name awakens all my woes./ Oh name for ever sad! for ever dear!/ Still breath'd in sighs, still usher'd with a tear." and "How oft, when press'd to marriage, have I said,/ Curse on all laws but those which love has made!/ Love, free as air, at sight of human ties,/ Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies,/ Let wealth, let honour, wait the wedded dame,/ August her deed, and sacred be her fame;/ Before true passion all those views remove,/ Fame, wealth, and honour! what are you to Love?"), the stanza highlighted in bold type above is the actual lines quoted in the movie itself. It was spoken by Kirsten Dunst's nurse receptionist character to Tom Wilkinson, who played the doctor in the movie. But this heart-breaking story between Kirsten as the "stupid little girl with a stupid little crush" and Tom as the outwardly-upstanding-but-morally-ambivalent "monster" is only secondary to the main plot, which is the love story between two characters with diametrically-opposed personalities, the reclusive Joel and the extroverted Clementine.

The central character - and indeed the narrator - in the movie is Joel Barish, an intellectual type who journalled all his musings and observations and obsessions into his notebook all the time (played by the brilliantly counter-intuitive casting choice of Jim Carey, whose performance is uncharacteristically subtle and nuanced). His love interest is Clementine (played by the ever effervescent Kate Winslet), who works at a Barnes and Noble's bookshop.

Just the fact that the two central characters are bookish types would have made me love this movie, but what really blew me away is the amount of quality literary references elegantly, memorably, yet unobtrusively inserted into the movie that made this an absolute gem. I'm so enamoured with this movie that I actually got the screenplay, and I am so grateful to be able to read these beautiful literary references in black and white, such as the one about the Velveteen Rabbit (coincidentally, this was also used as a plot device in that old favourite of mine on the telly, Friends. Can any of you remember how it was used without Googling?).

Rather than force my readers to go find those scenes again in the movie, I'll save you all the hassle (though come to think of it, watching Eternal Sunshine again wouldn't be a hassle at all but a pleasure). Allow me to share with you some of these scenes with literary references from the shooting script.

Crying over Robert Frost:
Clementine: Me neither. Oh, there's an inscription on the back.
(Clementine takes the photo off the wall and shows Joel the inscription on the back.)
Joel: Frost?
Clementine: [Impressed] Yeah. I'm not, like, a Robert Frost lover by any stretch. His stuff seems strictly grade school to me. But this made me cry for some reason. Maybe because it's grade school, y'know?
The Velveteen Rabbit:
Clementine: Do you know the Velveteen Rabbit?
Joel: No.
Clementine: It's my favourite book since I was a kid. It's about these toys. There's this part where the Skin Horse tells the Rabbit what it means to be real. [Crying, then laughing at herself].
Clementine: I can't believe I'm crying already. [Reading from a worn copy of the book]. He says, "It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
Laughing at the pretensiousness of theatre-luvvies:
[Clementine leads Joel into a crowd of people outside a Broadway theatre. They listen to conversations around them. Clementine adopts a mock-sophisticated tone, attempting to make it look like they are playgoers.]
Clementine: Blah blah blah good acting. Blah blah blah iambic pentameter.
Joel: [Laughing] You always break into places?
Clementine: Second Acting is a subversive act. Ticket prices are insane. Theatre belongs to the masses.
On Anna Akhmatova:
Clementine: Have you ever read any Anna Akhmatova?
Joel: I love her.
Clementine: Really? Me too! I don't meet people who even knows who she is and I work in a book store.
Joel: I think she's great.
Clementine: Me too. There's this poem...
[Joel and Clementine wandered near some beach houses closed for the summer]
Clementine: Do you know her poem that starts, "Seaside gusts of wind, / And a house in which we don't live"?
Joel: Yeah, yeah. It goes, "Perhaps there is someone in this world to whom I can send all these lines"?
Clementine: Yes! I love that poem. It breaks my heart. I'm so excited you know it. [Pointing to houses]. Look, houses in which we don't live.
Joel: [Chuckles appreciatively].

Many people find certain movies touching precisely because they contain echos of their selves. And just like Yun mentioned that she really identifies with Celine in Before Sunset, did I mention that I really, really identify with Clementine in Eternal Sunshine?

Even more than all her intelligence and subversiveness and bookishness, I love, love, love this line of hers:

Clementine: Joel, I'm not a concept. I want you to just keep that in your head. Too many guys think I'm a concept or I complete them or I'm going to make them alive, but I'm just a fucked-up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me yours.

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A bunch of snowdrops by any other name...

SNOWDROPS
S is for Sweet
N is for Natural
O is for Open-hearted
W is for Worldly
D is for Dedicated
R is for Romantic
O is for Original
P is for Perfectionist
S is for Special
What Does Your Name Mean?