A note on the works of a man that goes hand in hand with the land that he walked.
For those who have not discovered this man and his writing, a centenary year is passing. It has been a celebration year in Wales and around the world and surprisingly for me, I learn that his work “Under Milk Wood” is especially well-regarded in Germany.
Stefan Zweig was one of the most read and respected intellects of the early twentieth century but fell out of favour or at least interest waned until recently when his work has been rediscovered. Born in Austria (1881) and exiled, later naturalized in the UK (1939-) he presented as a dissatisfied, deeply infected idealist. He disliked classification, racism and condemnation of any nation to the point of self persecution in his attempts to function as a writer and intellectual; in his personal life he chose to remain aloof of the popularity that exposed him to the distasteful minds and attitudes that he sought to change. He travelled widely to escape boredom and which, in itself never satisfied.
As a short story writer Stefan Zweig, concluded that it was his curiosity in private life, contrary to his dislike of others prying into his, that drove his writing, excited his senses and presented him with the creative means to write for his own pleasure. He enjoyed the challenge of cutting a 100,000 word manuscript down to the bare bones, usually ending with less than half, requiring concentration and repeated effort.
Of the numerous works this writer produced, I recommend “The Royal Game” of which the extract below (click on continue reading) gives some insights.
The first held on, perhaps in a squat, with the cutest brindle prop; the second preened in her edifying setting; the third… of her kind… a passer in time.
It’s a funny thing ‘though not ha ha that the first’s repose is at Holland Park. There she sits, on her uppers, it’s the way she earns both their suppers. She asked of me, I could not grant… if I could have, I would have… a familiar chant.
A friendly nod, “never mind”, another comes in on the Central Line. A finger to nose she does tap and trills the legend: “mind the gap”. “One for sorrow, two, three, four, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told”.
It’s a tourmaline sky, lithium prism, crystal and quartz striae and the heat beats, and rubellite streaks… down. A golden blaze returns a haze and far underground…, a stirring, a rumble, a tremble; carriages lumber…; “will it thunder”? She nods her head; she smiles, coos and trebles above the chattering, clattering, teetering skips and hops and says: “look… that man’s wearing odd socks”! It’s a heavy day for the milling horde; “which way please, to Madam Tussauds’?'” For those who can’t manage an A-Z, she’s happy to tell them… it’s all in her head. A twenty pence piece from Mr. Rees; the nice Mrs. Glen buys a packet of ten for the many times they’ve missed that path, but what she’d give for a nice warm bath. She minds the night but has found a warm grating, away from the upstanding urinating. She smiles and takes the cellophane packaging; gives the ham to the cross, ignores the snipe (something about salt). She don’t give a toss.
This friend I make, would take but she knows a fragile state. “Here, sit,” says she; “wait while I get us a cup of tea. You might think the grass is greener, I tell you it can be meaner. Hang on in there to be free, not all sparrows live in the lea, not all sparrows are like me”. She hears our soles, bares our souls and says: “arse holes”.
It’s a funny thing ‘though not a lark, the second lives in our Country’s heart. There she stands at the Gothic creation, the boy wizard, its salvation, and her eye was in no way keener but you would see a look that might be mistook when she rooks the open sky. Turning keys in iron locks… she knows who will tick the right box. She hears our woe, she bares our lows and says “hey hoe”.
The last’s story is hard to tell; where to start when I know it well…? It was all to do with her young fledge, who had fallen from a very high ledge… and the great storm.
The wind had whipped up into a gale that night, cardboard flying high as kites and you’d dare not loiter anywhere; it hit hard in Berkeley Square. We saw her fluttering… heard her alarm and the distress she was uttering and she fought and those who tried could do no more so mother and fledge were left to their fate outside the back door and they said next morning as the day was dawning “how could we know… we could not foretell” ‘though the sky that morning had been quite red. Standing together, shaking our heads and as it is aft’ a storm, the sky was blue and the air stood still and there on the ground, wings wide-spread, a scene you would dread…, she and her young were both quite… dead, but… even if it be very dark, you’ll find a sparrow at Holland Park; expect a cheerful wave hallo and a smart: “I told you so…”
The Blackbird tells the story of “Sparrows Three” by Angeles Bean. Homelessness. Home is one element, birds as home builders. Another is the old adage: “birds of a feather…” or maybe she sees no such truism. For others, displaying two (a pair) promises a happy union and some will say that you should pick up a feather you find in your path for you may be holding your guardian angel. There are many such examples but for writers it is worth considering that birds in flight represent freedom; you are free to write anywhere, about anything even if you only have a quill pen.