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Most people think birds just go pi-pi-pi

James Fletcher, 4 April 1996

The Messiaen Companion 
edited by Peter Hill.
Faber, 581 pp., £40, March 1995, 0 571 17033 1
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Olivier Messiaen: Music and Colour. Conversations with Claude Samuel 
translated by Thomas Glasow.
Amadeus, 296 pp., $29.95, May 1994, 0 931340 67 5
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... of a pair of super-imposed isorhythmic sequences on piano and cello decorated with snatches of bird-song: the violin does a nightingale, the clarinet a blackbird. The movement does not develop in any way; the isorhythmic sequences continue for a time, the birds chatter and gurgle. Then it stops. It is as if one had been shown a sample of acoustic eternity ...

Some Names for Robert Lowell

Karl Miller, 19 May 1983

Robert Lowell: A Biography 
by Ian Hamilton.
Faber, 527 pp., £12.50, May 1983, 0 571 13045 3
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... Robert Lowell is not difficult to represent as the mad poet and justified sinner of the Romantic heritage. He is the dual personality who breaks the rules, kicks over the traces: he did this in the course of a series of manic highs which came and went from maturity, if not before, until the end of his life in 1977 at the age of 60 ...

How to make seal-flipper pie

Janette Turner Hospital, 10 February 1994

The Shipping News 
by E. Annie Proulx.
Fourth Estate, 337 pp., £14.99, November 1993, 9781857022056
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... that scientists don’t know whether or when major cod and haddock stocks will recover ... Robert Hache of the Association des Pêcheurs Professionels Acadiens said that the conclusions in the report are shocking even to fishermen used to declining stocks. ‘We see something that has never happened before in the northwest Atlantic,’ he said. ‘We ...

Hatching, Splitting, Doubling

James Lasdun: Smooching the Swan, 21 August 2003

Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self 
by Marina Warner.
Oxford, 264 pp., £19.99, October 2002, 0 19 818726 2
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... A memorable image in Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities likens the impact of a certain character to that of a powdery avalanche. The effect of reading Marina Warner’s magisterial works of cultural history is somewhat similar: the cool temperature, the graceful touch, the sensation of resistance being gently annihilated under an accumulation of brilliant particularity ...

Diary

Jane Campbell: The Rarest Bird in the World, 5 July 2018

... belonging to David Wingate. We were going to Nonsuch Island, the home of the cahow, an oceanic bird that was believed extinct for more than 300 years. Invisible most of the time and, like most Bermudians, off at sea as often as possible, it is unique to Bermuda and now one of the rarest birds in the world. We met at Flatt’s Inlet and set off along the ...

Drinking and Spewing

Sally Mapstone: The Variousness of Robert Fergusson, 25 September 2003

‘Heaven-Taught Fergusson’: Robert Burns’s Favourite Scottish Poet 
edited by Robert Crawford.
Tuckwell, 240 pp., £14.99, August 2002, 1 86232 201 5
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... Robert Fergusson died in Edinburgh’s Bedlam on 17 October 1774. He was 24 years old. He had been admitted to the asylum three months before, against his will, because his mother could no longer look after him. Having been persuaded by some friends that he was being taken out in a sedan chair to visit another acquaintance, he was conveyed instead to a cell in the asylum, a sepulchrous building abutting the old city wall ...

From Script to Scream

Richard Mayne, 18 December 1980

Caligari’s Children 
by S.S. Prawer.
Oxford, 307 pp., £8.95, March 1980, 9780192175847
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The Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Altman 
by Robert Phillip Kolker.
Oxford, 395 pp., £8.50, April 1980, 0 19 502588 1
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... S. S. Prawer is Taylor Professor of German Language and Literature at Oxford. Robert Phillip Kolker is Associate Professor of Film Studies (in the Department of Communication Arts and Theatre) at the University of Maryland, College Park. But don’t let the insignia fool you. Both gentlemen, I suspect, are movie fans at heart ...

American English

Robert Ilson, 6 May 1982

Oxford American Dictionary 
Oxford, 816 pp., £9.95, March 1981, 0 19 502795 7Show More
Longman New Generation Dictionary 
Longman, 798 pp., £3.95, July 1981, 0 582 55626 0Show More
Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary 
Harper and Row, 890 pp., £4.95, February 1981, 0 06 180254 9Show More
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... Robert Burchfield, Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, made a bid to unite two nations divided by a common language by unveiling the Oxford American Dictionary, which includes such words as gridlock (“urban traffic jam”). ’ So proclaimed the Sunday Telegraph Magazine. British and American English do indeed differ in all sorts of ways, as the following list of equivalent pairs will remind any doubters: lift/elevator, push-chair/stroller, bonnet/hood, boot/trunk, windscreen/windshield ...

Diary

Tim Dee: Derek Walcott’s Birthday Party, 22 May 2014

... writers are in the exhibition: William Empson, Seamus Heaney, Charles Tomlinson, Salman Rushdie, Robert Lowell, Geoffrey Hill. The only other bare feet besides Walcott’s belong to a corpse on a dissecting table in front of Keith Simpson, the forensic pathologist. An illegible name-tag is attached to a big toe. St Lucia may not be the Isle of Man, but legs ...

Diary

Gaby Wood: How to Draw an Albatross, 18 June 2020

... slashes of its vast folded wings. Diomedea exulans, the wandering albatross, was an improbable bird, seemingly assembled from the disparate parts of others: a dodo here, a seagull there, a wingspan from something prehistoric. You didn’t need to know what it was, or to be reminded of the albatross’s association with luck or guilt or human burden, or ...

Bananas Book

Eric Korn, 22 November 1979

Saturday Night Reader 
edited by Emma Tennant.
W.H. Allen, 246 pp., £5.95
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... is hard to uproot. Beverly Treasure? Chelsea Herbert? Lloriston Grant? Caroline Blackwood and Robert Lowell have a conversation about Ford Madox Ford? (Well, all right, but what’s it doing among ‘Traveller’s Tales’?)Chelsea Herbert is real too, and writes the best piece in the ‘Children in the City’ section: a funny, simple, and probably ...

Abortion, Alienation, Anomie

Peter Medawar, 2 December 1982

Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary 
by Robert Nisbet.
Harvard, 318 pp., £12.25, November 1982, 0 674 70065 1
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... it strange to read an entry headed ‘Anomie’ that made no mention of Emile Durkheim or of Robert Merton. ‘Anomy’ is declared obs. by the OED but the French variant anomie stands for a sort of sociological deficiency disease: it refers to the ‘lost’ and rootless state of an individual or community that lacks norms of behaviour and behavioural ...

At the British Museum

Peter Campbell: Living, Dying and Enlightenment, 22 January 2004

... connections between, say, a Bolivian dance mask and a wooden pillow from Zimbabwe unimportant. In Robert Smirke’s King’s Library of 1828, now divested of the books it was built to house, there is a new gallery called ‘Enlightenment’.* On the shelves and in display cases you find a stuffed toucan, a Chinese brush pot, an engraving of Stonehenge, three ...

Diary

David Craig: In the Barra Isles, 30 October 1997

... had died out among the Mingulay folk, and roped down the first few hundred feet of those colossal bird-cliffs, the black groins of them streaked orange and green like tribal body make-up or Aboriginal cave paintings of dancing ‘demons’, to catch fulmars with nooses on sticks. Feathers were a crucial commodity, sometimes accepted by landlords in lieu of ...

Female Heads

John Bayley, 27 October 1988

Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction 
by Tess Cosslett.
Harvester, 211 pp., £29.95, July 1988, 0 7108 1015 6
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Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century 
by John Mullan.
Oxford, 261 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 19 812865 7
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The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney. Vol. I: 1768-1773 
edited by Lars Troide.
Oxford, 353 pp., £45, June 1988, 9780198125815
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... head that Clarissa scribbles and Molly Bloom muses. For many male novelists, like the Austrian Robert Musil, erotic self-metamorphosis becomes mystical, a kind of religious substitute. The sphinx has her mystery, but in the final and most subtle analysis it is that of having no secret at all. One of Musil’s most memorable passages, a kind of essay ...

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