Our little book of poems

On my shelf is a small book about 5 inches square. It has a brown paper cover with my name on the paper cover. I can’t remember who covered it–me or my brother. Until a few years ago, its binding was as strong as the day it must have come freshly out of the  bookseller’s box. It’s Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, an anthology of poems.

I remember when I was twelve or thirteen years old it was my companion in the long summer afternoons when I came back from school and the house was quiet when everyone was taking their afternoon siesta. It must have been one of those afternoons when I discovered this book amongst my father’s books on the bookshelf.

I would station myself in a half-reclining position on the bed, propped up by lots of pillows, with a guava in the perfect stage of ripeness (or rawness–dasha–can’t think of a corresponding English word) and this book.

What I mostly read in the book were the lyrical poems by the British Romantics and the Victorians. Wordsworth’s apparent simplicity, Keats’ melancholy and Shelley’s passion appealed to my young mind without the necessity of delving too deep.

English: Title page of 1861 first edition (sec...
I can’t find my copy now! So here’s one from Zemanta. [ Title page of 1861 first edition (second issue) of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)]
Later, my afternoon reads  were somewhat replaced by second-hand store bought cheap romance novels which I devoured with an equal passion and which influenced my own writing, for better or for worse. I think those rather indiscriminate readings influenced who I grew up to become–neither highbrow nor lowbrow  but maybe a little bit of both. (Much later, I learnt that Palgrave’s taste and the subsequent authoritarian status of this anthology for a long time was to be considered highly suspect, even hated, but I was blissfully unaware of any of this propped up next to my window watching the trains pass by and reading my book)

There were two yellowed pieces of paper I found in the pages of the book. One was some handwritten notes on a class on George Bernard Shaw and another just a piece of paper, a class schedule in tabular form written in faded blue fountain pen in cursive.

The pencil grid had disappeared by the time it reached me but the Calcutta University English class times were clear. This was my Pishemoshai’s (uncle’s–my father’s sister’s husband’s ) handwriting. He must have  given it to my Pishi (aunt) sometime when they were in college together and my Pishi had inherited this book from my father, her older brother, who must have also taken the same class a few years earlier.

Those two pieces of paper in The Golden Treasury confirmed what I had heard –that Pishemoshai was always the more attentive student in college, taking notes and attending classes. Pishi was the opposite. But he always shared the class notes so she could ace her exams.

Pishemoshai passed away a few years back. And I don’t know where those two pieces of paper have gone. But the Golden Treasury is still on my shelf.

On the flyleaf of the book is a name in pencil. My dad’s. And below it is Pishi’s in fountain pen. I know my brother used it too and then I did the same in college. But my brother and I never put our names on the book for some reason. But mine is there on the brown paper cover.

Even now, whenever I think of the poem Ozymandias of Egypt, I think of a page on that book. The short poem occupies half a left-hand page of the 5 by 5 inch book with P. B. Shelley printed right below the title. I am able to see all this on my mind’s eye as I write.

I think I’ll never be able to separate some of those poems from the pages of that book.

So I packed the book a few years ago in my carry-on suitcase on several flights from Calcutta to California. The threads that strung the pages together were already old and so some of them broke as the suitcase rode roughshod over conveyor belts and damp luggage carts and sat next to AC vents in overhead luggage compartments.

Yet, the pages are still together. I’m thinking of tying a string around the whole book to keep it all in one place like a sheaf of parchment.

Yet, curiously enough, I can’t remember the last time I opened that book. Almost all the poems in the Golden Treasury are now online in full text.

I have read those poems on various computer screens. At home, I have accessed them through the last decade on my very first computer–an e machines desktop that I was loath to let go of when it died. I have accessed them on my subsequent super-heavy dell laptop, my somewhat lighter dell laptop that followed when the older one gave way and now on my current super-light laptop.

All these computers followed each other to their graves. The older machines are already gone. I have no illusions about my current machine surviving beyond the next 3 or 4 years. I can never imagine my nephew who is still a small boy  finding anything that once belonged to me ever on them.

I know that most of those poems that shaped me are all there. The poems have moved through the computers like the same soul moving through a few generations of bodies.

And yet, whenever I picture those poems, I see them in print on my (or maybe our) brown paper covered Golden Treasury.

My Dad’s, Pishi’s, Pishemoshai’s, my brother’s and mine.

©bottledworder, 2013. https://bottledworder.wordpress.com
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47 thoughts on “Our little book of poems”

  1. I similar to the treasured data you present as part of your article content.I will bookmark your blogging website and investigate yet again listed here consistently.I’m quite sure I will be taught loads of new things suitable correct here! Great luck for that up coming!


  2. Am a new and most say captivated reader. I just came across your blog today and most say i love the descriptive power used in all you posts. Its so amazing…really and am looking forward to attaining such writing height.


  3. A delightful blog, thoughtful, contemplative. I cannot imagine a world without books, having grown up in a very book-friendly home, and still value the aesthetics of holding a well-loved, well-thumbed book in one’s hands again, for a treasured re-reading, whether as an adult or a child …


  4. I love the image of this book tied to keep it safely in one piece; more than just a book, but a part of your history. Beautiful post!


  5. What a story of this book, and what it means to you. I really loved reading it. I can’t think of many things I own that have gone through hands and generations of family.

    Wonderful reflection. Thank you for sharing this.


  6. I sometimes imagine my books taking a breath when I open them after a long time, enough to keep them going when they return to their place on the shelf. Another serene post. Thank you.


  7. Yes, I too have my Palgrave, and love the old paper, the blue binding, the type-faces… I loved your story, but felt rather sad that though you have your memories embedded in that book along with the history of your family and your past, children who read those poems on a computer won’t have those added dimensions in their memories of poems from their childhood….


  8. I loved this post. The brown paper cover alone, and that you didn’t write in it, just on that outer cover. Because it was revered, even the older generation dared not mark it with pen. All those computers “going to their graves,” but that Golden Treasury, albeit a little battered, soon-to-be tied up with string, goes on—a sacred relic, a family palimpsest, a book that has shaped sensibilities over many generations. Beautiful.
    Thought you might like something I wrote in somewhat similar vein, a paean to fountain pens of my youth, in which I mention the annual ritual of wrapping our textbooks in brown paper.


    1. I loved your blog. Your descriptions are very powerful. I’ve browsed through a few and I find that each entry is very finished and very mature if I may say so. I loved “At the Gates of Dawn.” I feel very lucky to have discovered your blog and have only begun to skim the surface. I thought you were an already established writer or critic (which you might be 🙂 )I’ve become a follower. Thank you for leading me to your blog!


  9. Don’t mean to wander too far from your central focus, but thanks for mentioning my college heroes, the English Romantic Poets…they touched the soul of a young southern boy from Tennessee, and, more than perhaps any other writers awakened my desires for expression…


  10. This was beautiful and sweet. There’s nothing quite like that first book a person truly treasures and loves. It’s not something that can be replaced or ever “outgrown”.


  11. I really enjoyed this post as I do with your posts. Can’t wait to read them when I see it in my mail. Books are for real in a way that computers can’t be, never will be. They are more of a practical instrument for reading. Thanks


  12. There weren’t books in my home growing up. Neither of my parents read, so us kids didn’t read, either. Well, I read comic books. From about the ages of 9 to 13, I read comics fairly regularly – mainstream stuff, like X-Men and Superman, Loony Toons and Archie – and when it was nice out, which isn’t as often in the Pacific Northwest as I’d like – I’d take my comics to the sun-baked yard and prop my back against the telephone pole there and read till I got sleepy. Sometimes with sweet, Lipton tea by my side. Your post reminded me of these times. Thank you.


  13. Window to the past opens up suddenly…
    getting immersed in that smell of old, yellowed, worn out pages,
    suddenly seeing the black printed word,
    coming out from the black and white canvas of past…
    a beautiful memory…


  14. Beautiful memories of a treasured book. My copy of The Golden Treasury is well-thumbed and worn. It’s very old. It was my Mother’s. Evenings she would read the poems out loud. Reading was the major source of entertainment in a Television-less age. She would read to us through the long, cold winter nights. Having someone read to you is really quite wonderful, even now. V


  15. Loved your post, one of my most treasured possessions is a ratty, falling apart copy of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple SAge. It had belonged to my Grandfather, his father and brothers, he gave it to me when he was in his 80’s and told me how they traveled from farm to farm during harvest season helping with the harvest, by horse. Then when winter came they pooled all their extra money and bought books and traded them with neighbors and other relatives until everyone had read all of them. My Zane Grey is the only surviving book from that time. I read it then carefully put it on my shelf it is all I have left of my Grandfather. Loved him, his stories about books and my falling apart old book.
    Oh, they got them from the Sears catalog for 25 cents a book!!


    1. Very real and human and funny. I love the warmth that came thru with all the aunts and uncles using, touching, learning from that one book in college, each in his or her own way and style. I was chuckling with some of your lines (“neither highbrow nor lowbrow but somewhere in between…”) and others. . I completely relate. I am the middle one in my family – and my older brothers’ books with their scrawly name in the front inside cover of the classics (probably school books) were in my mom’s New York basement, so when we were in NY, my sons “borrowed” some of them with my mom’s blessings to our home in California. Now we have the same thing in my home – those books from my brother (their uncle) plus many newer ones that we bought at Borders when the boys were growing up – are being passed on to my grandsons. We keep them in our house and the little ones read them when they come over, or take some home. My daughter-in-law doesn’t have that much room in her apartment so she prefers they just take one at a time. LOL and keep it special for when they come over.


  16. This was so beautiful. The way the book was passed down the generations. It’s a little magical I think, spreading the same wonder and knowledge yet each person pouring back into the book a little story of their own.


  17. Growing up as #8 of 9 kids, I did see my share of books passed down. Shakespeare / Hardy / Dickens as well as Wren and Martin and those ubiquitous Maths books – Hall & Knight, Hall, Knight and Stevens etc.

    And …. this one fact is how I met my wife!


  18. Remembering a book like that is so special it’s almost like remembering a person whose words shaped your life. The writers’ voices come through the pages. You can’t get that from a computer screen.


  19. Another gorgeous post. I can genuinely say that yours is the only blog I currently follow where I am delighted when a new post pops into my inbox. You truly deserve the accolades you have been receiving. Please keep blogging!


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