Consensus candidate for Browning's speaker

Sorry, Duchess

I woke in the middle of the night wondering whether Robert Browning could have been thinking of the 16th-century composer Carlo Gesualdo (1566?-1613) when he penned his famous and much-anthologized dramatic monologue “My Last Duchess”. (more…)

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an account of the massacre

Consummatum est

In his final speech (1889), Jeff Davis told his audience of Southern college students, Let me beseech you to lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and to take your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished–a reunited country. I find this strange and telling. […]

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Jean-François Millet

Keats on Sudafed

John Keats was in his early twenties when he wrote the sad, prescient sonnet that begins, When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain, Before high-piled books, in charact’ry, Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain… (more…)

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Plate VII, 1761

Prisons of the Imagination

I’ve been working on a story about prisons. As I investigate the history of crime and punishment in Western society, I’m struck by the influence of G.B. Piranesi’s famous renderings: everybody refers to these, cites them, uses them in a frontispiece. (more…)

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Vox humana

Instrumentalists imitate the human voice more often than human singers imitate instruments. Evidence for the rule includes Louis Armstrong’s duets with Ella, Bach’s obbligato parts to sacred arias (I am thinking especially of oboe and cello), some styles of African drumming, and even some didgeridoo music.  (more…)

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I meet the Young Master.

Your name is what?

I first met my son in a Guatemala City hotel room. Surrounded by his foster family, all of whom were weeping, I held that little eight-months’ old miracle in my big clumsy hands—these hands!—and, gazing into his eyes, murmured “Me llamo pappa”: My name is Potato. I had been studying Spanish, you see. (more…)

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