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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

The Raven

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

As I already have indicated, I believe that the world is in one of its most deadly times, a truly enormous cascade of events that have changed human lives forever. Indeed, we are living through what might well be considered a tale of horror. My close friend, Doctor Stephen Dubel, has recently dissected Poe’s great poem of revulsion and terror, and here it is :

 

The Raven

BY EDGAR ALLAN POE

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

Only this and nothing more.”

 

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Nameless here for evermore.

 

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

This it is and nothing more.”

 

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—

Darkness there and nothing more.

 

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—

Merely this and nothing more.

 

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—

’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

 

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

 

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

 

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

With such name as “Nevermore.”

 

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—

Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

 

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

 

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;

Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

 

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

She shall press, ah, nevermore!

 

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee

Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

 

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—

Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

 

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

 

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

 

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted—nevermore!

 

Ah, yes. Nevermore, nevermore, shall we see our world as it once was. It shall be different, it will seem strange. And all around us, nevermore!

 

The Horror Below : A Halloween Tale

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

For this upcoming Halloween tomorrow, I thought it might be fun to put one of my Halloween short stories, which others have found both interesting and creepy. If anyone who visits my blog and reads it finds it interesting and creepy, I will be delighted.

The Horror Below

A Halloween Tale

It’s impossible for me to describe in detail all the events that led to my present state. As I sit here in the courtroom charged with what happened to Allen Hastings, I know that my testimony will be dismissed, and I will be executed. Perhaps that’s just as well. My dreams are haunted and I no longer wish to imagine what lurks in the dark corners of any room in which I reside.

It all started when I met Allen at the University –––– the class in Gothic literature. Our mutual interests in the gloomy settings, the grotesque and vile events, and the atmosphere of degeneration and decay of 12th and 13th century northern Europe, served as the basis for the development of a warm friendship. We shared many evenings in the local Rathskeller, drinking beer and feasting on bratwurst and sauerbraten. But with time, I began to have a sense of unease.

Outwardly jovial, but inwardly tortured, as I was later to learn, Allen expressed interest in the darkest aspects of medieval German literature, and especially the supposed long-lost book, Die Ubergeist, written by the mad necromancer, Gottfried Abendsturm.

Toward the end of the semester, he began ranting on and on, sometimes in unintelligible German, about the abominable creatures hidden all around us, and how the book could guide us to their hiding places and expose them.

I began to worry that he was losing his senses, and tried to deflect him from this obsession.  “Since you’ve never seen the book ––– it seems no one has –––– why waste your time agonizing about it?” I asked him.

He smiled…. no, he leered. “I’ve not only seen it, but I’ve read it.”

I laughed. “What nonsense. I dare you to show it to me.” These were the fatal words. I so wish I could bring back and smash that utterance into atomic pulp.

“Are you certain? Once you see it, read it, there’s no turning back,” he warned.

I shrugged. “Sure. After all, how often does one see a book that doesn’t exist.”

So, the next day, All Hallows Eve as it turned out, I went to his apartment, said hello to several of my friends and classmates as I entered the building, and foolishly told them I had come to visit Allen. I had never seen Allen’s flat, and I found it to be a strange and forbidding place. It was filled with death masks hanging from the walls, black curtains and furniture, and only a few electric lights ––– but dozens of candelabras with blood red candles. At that point I determined to leave as quickly as possible, after satisfying myself that Allen’s book did not exist.

He offered me a glass of wine and brought me into his study. He opened a safe that sat beside his desk. He reached in and brought out a huge book, richly embroidered with hideous gargoyles and satanic faces, and placed it on a table. “Well, here it is. Beautiful isn’t it? But be careful. The pages are so old that even the slightest injury will cause them to fragment into dust.”

I began to shiver as I turned the pages. It was written in medieval German, and throughout there were drawings of skulls, devil heads, corpses, and smiling rats with blood tinged teeth.

Allen now took over and turned to page 666. He then looked at me and said,  “Are you stouthearted enough to come with me where few have gone, where the sun does not shine, where the unspeakable resides?”

I hesitated and began to tremble uncontrollably. Oh, why didn’t I flee from this challenge? But being young and foolhardy, I was more afraid of seeming a coward than listening to my deep fears. I calmed myself and said, “Of course I’m ready. Where is this netherworld? In your kitchen?”  I laughed, perhaps a bit shrilly, and waited for his response.

He chuckled hoarsely, a cold, almost sinister sound, and then turned back to the book. He now proceeded to recite the poem on page 666 in a guttural, alien language:

“Ph’nglu mglw’nafh wgah’naglfhagn

Mzz’xetth mzz’etth ndd’rtth dz’ftthe

Wghtth’lleh mnw’ttghth zzfg’llenth

Tth’zcggmeh dzznth’emnth gdzdd’brgh.”

And when he finished, he smiled and closed the book. We stood staring at each other. His smile never left him. I began to feel lightheaded, and as I watched, the walls started to shake slowly, then violently, and the room disappeared. Now I found myself in an ancient church, in which, oddly enough, there were no religious ornaments. It’s difficult to describe how cold it was, and how unpleasant the smell of primeval decay. On what seemed to be the altar, I saw a long, raised stone slab above which hung a carved black bird with its wings spread out.

I stood transfixed until Allen turned to me and whispered, “Here.”  He had brought along two flashlights and two cell phones.. He handed me one of each and said, “Come, help me move that slab on the alter. Slowly, slowly, and with enormous effort, we were successful in uncovering an ingress into yawning blackness. The light from his flashlight revealed a long stone staircase leading down into what appeared to be infinite darkness. The smell that arose from the depths exceeded the most awful I have ever experienced ––– indescribable, except to say it caused me to retch over and over until, exhausted, I sank to the floor

Allen helped me up to a bench, and I tried to catch hold of myself. While doing so, I looked around at the church. Unimaginably old, perhaps several thousand years or more. Monstrous spider webs, encompassing all manner of dead insects, hung from the tall rafters. In the dark shadows surrounding us, I thought I saw movement, and then nothing. As I looked down away from my fear, I saw the skeletal remains of dead animals ––––rats, bats, birds. I shuddered and looked up at Allen.

“Where are we? In Hell?”

“Perhaps. But certainly a place where few have been and where I must finish my task. I need to go down into these catacombs. I must know what lies beneath this place. I’ll keep in touch with you via our cell phones.”  He turned and went to the opening.

“No, wait. I’m going with you. I can’t let you go down there alone.”  Sick with fear, but nevertheless unwilling to allow my friend to descend into that pit without me, I rose and started toward him.

“No!” he shouted. “No! You need to stay here. You can’t come with me.”

“Yes. I must. I insist.”

“If you try, I’ll call off this journey and we’ll leave. I’ll come back later. Alone. Won’t that be worse for me ? No one to contact?”

“All right. But for God’s sake, be careful.”

I sat down again, shivering, once more assessing the gloom where shadows moved and where I heard rustling and crunching as ghostly feet stepped upon the animal corpses. I shined the light in all directions, but failed to see the ghouls I sensed were all around me.

After what seemed like hours, my cell phone rang and I heard Allen’s voice. “Oh, my God. Oh, heavenly Father. What awful things I see. Ghastly! Dirty. Beastly. Ululating, demonic, blackest hell.”

“Allen, Allen, what is it? What are you seeing?”

“I can’t……. I can’t describe it. It’s too awful. You must get out! Get out!”

“No! I can’t leave you.”

“Yes. You must get out! But first move back the stone slab. For God’s sake push it back over the portal into this place beyond hell!” And then the screams began, high-pitched awful screams, Allen’s screams.

Breathing hard and sweating cold sweat, I barely managed to move the slab back over that doorway to the unspeakable. I ran to the entrance of the church, brushing past the slavering things that began to move out of the shadows, cackling, mumbling incomprehensible words.

I lunged out of the church into the night and into a crumbling graveyard. I began to scream as I ran toward lights I saw in the distance. After reaching what appeared to be a street leading to the university, I looked back, and the church was gone.

Shaking like some poor epileptic soul, I reached my apartment, tumbled into my room, and let out a strangled cry as I found Allen’s mutilated head on my bed. As I collapsed to the floor shrieking, the cellphone that I still clutched in my hand rang, and I heard harsh, croaking laughter, followed by a voice, deep, fiendish, savage, cruel, shout out,

“ Allen Hastings is dead and I am FREE! ”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorothy Parker/American Writer

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

A wonderful story about a wonderful writer. It is amazing how she overcame so many obstacles that stood in her way of reaching the top of the literary world

 

August 22 was the birth date of writer Dorothy Parker , born Dorothy Rothschild in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1893. Her mother died when she was young, and her father remarried a devout Catholic woman whom Parker despised. Parker dropped out of high school when she was 14 and never went back, although she rarely admitted later in life that she had never graduated from high school. She told one reporter: “Because of circumstances, I didn’t finish high school. But, by God, I read.”

After Parker’s stepmother died, she lived alone with her father for many years, taking care of him as his health failed. After he died, she wasn’t sure what to do. She found a job playing piano at a dance academy, and decided to try writing some light verse. She sold a poem to Vanity Fair, and the editor liked her so much that he got her a job writing captions at Vogue, which was also owned by Condé Nast. For an underwear layout, she wrote the caption: “From these foundations of the autumn wardrobe, one may learn that brevity is the soul of lingerie, as the Petticoat said to the Chemise.” She didn’t fit in well with the proper and stylish culture of Vogue, so she went back to Vanity Fair. She worked as the drama critic there while P.G. Wodehouse was on vacation, and she wrote poems and stories for the magazine. She and two of her coworkers  Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood  started the Algonquin Round Table, a group that met daily over lunch at the Algonquin Hotel to play games, write funny poems, and make witty remarks. Their verbal escapades were recorded and printed in the newspaper, and Parker became famous for her witticisms. Members of the Algonquin Round Table were allowed in by invitation only.

Throughout the 1920s, she published poems and reviews and she wrote book reviews for The New Yorker in a column called “Constant Reader.” About Beauty and the Beast by Kathleen Norris, she wrote: “I’m much better now, in fact, than I was when we started. I wish you could have heard that pretty crash Beauty and the Beast made when, with one sweeping, liquid gesture, I tossed it out of my twelfth-story window.”

In 1934, Parker married her second husband, Alan Campbell, and they moved to Hollywood to work as screenwriters, which they were successful at. At a time when the average screenwriter made about $40 a week, Parker made $2,000 a week. She and her husband were nominated for an Academy Award for the film A Star is Born (1937), recently remade staring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Parker was nominated again with a co-writer for Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947). She became active in left-wing politics, especially labor unions and the Spanish Civil War. In 1949, she was put on the Hollywood blacklist, and her screenwriting days were over. Parker stopped writing much at all. She wrote bits for radio and occasional pieces for Esquire.

Toward the end of her life, Parker said of the Algonquin Round Table members: “These were no giants. Think who was writing in those days: Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway. Those were the real giants. The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them. It was not legendary. I don’t mean that,  but it wasn’t all that good. There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn’t have to be any truth.”

She died at the age of 73 and left her estate to Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

 

Immanuel Kant/The Categorical Imperative

Friday, July 12th, 2019

A major philosopher of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant , was born in Königsberg, Prussia in 1724. During Kant’s lifetime Königsberg, near the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, was the capital of East Prussia, and its dominant language was German. Altho’ geographically remote from the rest of Prussia and other German cities, Königsberg was then a major commercial center, an important military port, and a relatively cosmopolitan university town. Today Königsberg has been renamed Kaliningrad and is part of Russia.

Kant’s father was a saddle maker, but the son was a serious student. He studied theology, physics, mathematics, and philosophy at university, and worked for a time as a private tutor; he made very little money, but it gave him plenty of time for his own work. He lectured at the University of Königsberg for 15 years until he was eventually given a tenured position as professor of logic and metaphysics in 1770. Though he enjoyed hearing travel stories, he never ventured more than 50 miles from his hometown, believing that travel was not necessary to solve the problems of philosophy.

In his most influential work, The Critique of Pure Reason (1781), he argued against Empiricism, which held that the mind was a blank slate to be filled with observations of the physical world, and Rationalism, which held that it was possible to experience the world objectively without the interference of the mind; instead, he synthesized the two schools of thought, added that the conscious mind must process and organize our perceptions, and made a distinction between the natural world as we observe it and the natural world as it really is. He viewed morality as something that arises from human reason, and maintained that an action of morality is determined not by the outcome of the action, but by the motive behind it. He is also famous for his single moral obligation, the Categorical Imperative: namely, that we should judge our actions by whether or not we would want everyone else to act the same way.

He wrote, “Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe…the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

William Shakespeare

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

T.S. Eliot opened his magnum opus, The Wasteland” with the following words: ”April Is the cruelest month . . . .” Well, perhaps. But I believe April is a wonderful month ­­­­––– Shakespeare, Immanuel Kant, and Ella Fitzgerald were all  born in April. And, often overlooked is the freeing of Dachau, that pit of evil, by the American army, on April 29, 1945. So, in the next 4 posts are a few words about all four of these April miracles.

April 23,1564, was probably the actual birthday of William Shakespeare, the greatest writer in the English language, who was baptized on April 26, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. Unfortunately, he left behind no personal papers; so much of what we know, or think we know, about him comes to us from public and court documents, with a fair measure of inference and speculation. We do know that his father, John, was a glove maker and alderman, and his mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. William’s extensive knowledge of Latin and Greek likely came from his education at the well-respected local grammar school. That was the extent of his formal education, which has led to hundreds of years of conspiracy theories disputing the authorship of his plays, since many found it unbelievable that he could have written so knowledgeably about history, politics, royalty, and foreign lands on a grammar school education. Various figures, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and even Queen Elizabeth I, have been put forward as possible — though unproven — ghost writers.

We know that he married the older — and pregnant — Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26, and she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that, and son Hamnet died at age 11. It’s speculated that his son’s death hit Shakespeare hard, because he began to write Hamlet soon afterward.

He moved to London around 1588 — possibly to escape deer-poaching charges in Stratford — and began a career as an actor and a playwright. By 1594, he was also managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London theater troupe. He was popular in his lifetime, but his popularity didn’t rise to the level that George Bernard Shaw referred to as “bardolatry” until the 19th century.

In 1611, he retired to Stratford and made out his will, leaving to his wife, Anne, his “second-best bed.” He died on or around his birthday in 1616, and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, leaving a last verse behind as his epitaph: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare / to dig the dust enclosed here. / Blessed be the man who spares these stones, / and cursed be he who moves my bones.”

Though biographical details may be sketchy, his literary legacy is certain. He wrote 38 plays: including the great tragedies Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello. He also wrote 154 sonnets, and several epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and shifted effortlessly between formal court language and coarse vernacular. The Oxford English Dictionary credits him with coining 3,000 new words, and has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. His idioms have woven themselves so snugly into our daily conversations that we aren’t even aware of them most of the time, phrases such as “a fool’s paradise,” “a sorry sight,” “dead as a doornail,” “Greek to me,” “come what may,” “eaten out of house and home,” “forever and a day,” “heart’s content,” “slept a wink,” “love is blind,” “night owl,” “wild goose chase,” and “into thin air.”

Though we have no way of knowing whether the Bard of Avon was writing of his own impending retirement when he wrote Prospero’s soliloquy from The Tempest in about 1610, it’s satisfying to think so:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

 


William S. Frankl, MD, All Rights Reserved