Monday, November 23, 2015

McCall Smith, Auden, and generally good advice

Over the years like everybody else I’ve had advice from others on all sorts of topics – on how to live my life, on how to avoid food poisoning while travelling, on where to buy socks, and so on. I was once told by a friend that it is generally best in this life to be kind. “Just be kind,” he said. That sounds like very simple advice, but it is absolutely spot-on. And that friend, by the way, was – and is – very kind. So he practised what he preached. In the writing context, I remember being told by a friend of what he had learned at the feet of his ancient English teacher, one Mr. Robinson. “Never use two words where one will do,” Mr Robinson said. That is very sound advice – or, shall I say, sound advice. Alexander McCall Smith

McCall Smith also mentioned Auden's Collected Shorter Poems, and how he liked to listen to a recording of the poet reading In Memory of Sigmund Freud, his voice so wise and humane. So of course I had to hear for myself, and found myself in agreement. Here is  WH Auden reciting As I Walked Out One Evening.

The ending is beautiful:
‘O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
   The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
   And the deep river ran on. 

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