Commonplace Book - Summer 2014


By Anne Matthews | June 9, 2014


And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

—Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress,” 1651–1652

She wore a very short red skirt, which revealed white silk stockings with more than one hole, and tiny shoes of red morocco, tied with flame-colored ribbons. She put her mantilla aside, to show her shoulders and a huge bunch of cassia, which protruded from her chemise. She had a cassia flower in the corner of her mouth, too, and as she walked she swung her hips like a filly in the stud at Cordova. In my province a woman in that costume would have compelled everybody to cross themselves.

—Prosper Mérimée, “Carmen,” 1845

At first glance these stories of Satan may seem to have little in common. Yet they all agree on one thing: that this greatest and most dangerous enemy did not originate, as one might expect, as an outsider, an alien, or a stranger. Satan is not the distant enemy but the intimate enemy—one’s trusted colleague, close associate, brother. He is the kind of person on whose loyalty and goodwill the well-being of family and society depend—but one who turns unexpectedly jealous and hostile. … Those who asked, “How could God’s own angel become his enemy?” were thus asking, in effect, “How could one of us become one of them? 

—Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan, 1995

The elephant, the huge old beast,
is slow to mate;

he finds a female, they show no haste
they wait

for the sympathy in their vast shy hearts
slowly, slowly to rouse

as they loiter along the river-beds
and drink and browse …

They do not snatch, they do not tear;
their massive blood

moves as the moon-tides, near, more near,
till they touch in flood.

—D. H. Lawrence, “The Elephant is Slow to Mate,” 1929

MR EDWARDS: Mfanwy Price!

MISS PRICE: Mr Mog Edwards!

MR EDWARDS: I am a draper mad with love. I love you more than all the flannelette and calico, candlewick, dimity, crash and merino, tussore, cretonne, crépon, muslin, poplin, ticking and twill in the whole Cloth Hall of the world. I have come to take you away to my Emporium on the hill, where the change hums on wires. Throw away your little bedsocks and your Welsh wool knitted jacket, I will warm the sheets like an electric toaster, I will lie by your side like the Sunday roast.

—Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood, 1953

The person who is unable to seduce people is not able to save them, either.

—Søren Kierkegaard, Journal, 1848

“Have a bit of the wing, darling?” queried Diana solicitously, indicating the roast Long Island airplane with applesauce. I tried to turn our conversation from the personal note, but Diana would have none of it. Soon we were exchanging gay bantam over the mellow Vouvray, laughing as we dipped fastidious fingers into the Crisco parfait for which Diana was famous. Our meal finished, we sauntered into the rumpus room and Diana turned on the radio. With a savage snarl the radio turned on her and we slid over the waxed floor in the intricate maze of the jackdaw strut.

—S. J. Perelman, Strictly From Hunger, 1937

It takes two bodies to make one seduction.

—Guy Wetmore Carryl (1873–1904)

He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly with a strained sound Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily. “They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925

She didn’t speak as I moved around her, and there was an imperceptible smile on her lips, undefinable, of peace, of happiness, as if she were being bathed by the light, as if this whirlwind circling slowly around her, at a distance, were the most gentle caress. I believe that at that moment she was happy with the image that I, her son, allowed her to have and that I was capturing without my father’s knowledge. In fact, it’s that: the image of a woman who has always been criticized by her husband, enjoying what she could never have, a forbidden image, and the pleasure between us was even greater as the forbidden burst into pieces.

—Hervé Guibert, Ghost Image, 1982

She was irresistible, in a dress she had designed and one of the long shad-vertebra necklaces that she herself had made. … Aureliano did not need to see her to know that she had arrived. She put her elbows on the table, so close and so helpless that Aureliano heard the deep sound of her bones, and she became interested in the parchments. Trying to overcome his disturbance, he grasped at the voice that he was losing, the life that was leaving him, the memory that was turning into a petrified polyp, and he spoke to her about the priestly destiny of Sanskrit, the scientific possibility of seeing the future showing through time as one sees what is written on the back of a sheet of paper through the light, the necessity of deciphering the predictions so they would not defeat themselves, and the destruction of Cantabria predicted by Saint Milanus. Suddenly … moved by an impulse that had been sleeping in him since his origins, Aureliano put his hand on hers, thinking that that final decision would put an end to his doubts.

—Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1967

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