Thoughts on The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

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I loved Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth and I have come to expect lyrical prose and magical realism in her work. I am not a fan of magical realism as such but hers I gobble up like a plate of hot Top Ramen noodles (read the fragrance of childhood). Poetry, magic, fate everything I have never understood and can’t put into words, Alice Hoffman does it with ease like she has done it all her life, which she has, but it always takes me by surprise.

I usually steer clear of misery or negativity in pop culture unless I think I can handle it. And Alice Hoffman should be read when you can handle her prose. Her words pierce your soul. She wrings out emotions and feelings you never thought you had. The storyline is easy to follow but the themes are weighty. The Ice Queen deals with matters of life and death and everything in between that constitutes the business of living. She writes fairy tales for adults but don’t be fooled into thinking that it would be simple or straightforward.

I took the book with me when I was travelling but somehow I could sense it wasn’t the place for it and I read very little. And I didn’t want to read the book at breakneck speed because I wanted to inhabit the words of this book until I absorbed its essence.

Like many reviewers I agree there isn’t an extra word in The Ice Queen. She covers so much in 211 pages. It is a sentimental tale but the ending is unpredictable. At the centre of the story is an unlikeable protagonist – the unnamed narrator, who is a librarian and a lightning survivor. Something happened when she was a child and and she has allowed it to colour her entire life. Lightning has always fascinated me but this scared me, the damage it can do to your system if you have the misfortune to be struck by it. Her character changes in a fundamental way and she sees herself differently by the time the book ends and so did I. Alice Hoffman makes you feel for her and in spite of everything you root for her. Deep down we are all dreamers.

The Ice Queen is a book about life and death, and about love and hate. It is a book about secrets and their power to define us if we let them.

Secrets are only knowledge that hasn’t yet been uncovered… Therefore, they are not in fact secrets but only unrealized truth.

The Ice Queen is about all kinds of love – love between siblings (blood ties can’t be so easily dismissed), love between people who have survived the same thing, love between people who are married and their lives tied together in ways unimaginable and love that remains even when the object of affection has vanished into thin air. (Not literally true but I wanted to use it because I am feeling theatrical today!)

Feel lucky for what you have when you have it. Isn’t that the point? Happily ever after doesn’t mean happy forever. The ever after, what precisely was that? Your dreams, your life, your death, your everything. Was it the blank space that went on without us? The forever after we were gone?

The Ice Queen tells me things find their own way to fruition if it’s meant to be. And to have an open heart and appreciate the present. Nothing I didn’t know but how many of us actually live fully in the present?

Continue reading “Thoughts on The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman”

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The incomparable Toru Dutt

Our Casuarina Tree

LIKE a huge Python, winding round and round  
 The rugged trunk, indented deep with scars,  
 Up to its very summit near the stars,  
A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound  
 No other tree could live. But gallantly         
The giant wears the scarf, and flowers are hung  
In crimson clusters all the boughs among,  
 Whereon all day are gathered bird and bee;  
And oft at nights the garden overflows  
With one sweet song that seems to have no close,          
Sung darkling from our tree, while men repose.  
 
When first my casement is wide open thrown  
 At dawn, my eyes delighted on it rest;  
 Sometimes, and most in winter,—on its crest  
A gray baboon sits statue-like alone         
 Watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs  
His puny offspring leap about and play;  
And far and near kokilas hail the day;  
 And to their pastures wend our sleepy cows;  
And in the shadow, on the broad tank cast          
By that hoar tree, so beautiful and vast,  
The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed.  
 
But not because of its magnificence  
 Dear is the Casuarina to my soul:  
 Beneath it we have played; though years may roll,        
O sweet companions, loved with love intense,  
 For your sakes, shall the tree be ever dear.  
Blent with your images, it shall arise  
In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!  
 What is that dirge-like murmur that I hear         
Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach?  
It is the tree’s lament, an eerie speech,  
That haply to the unknown land may reach.  
 
Unknown, yet well-known to the eye of faith!  
 Ah, I have heard that wail far, far away         
 In distant lands, by many a sheltered bay,  
When slumbered in his cave the water-wraith  
 And the waves gently kissed the classic shore  
Of France or Italy, beneath the moon,  
When earth lay trancèd in a dreamless swoon:       
 And every time the music rose,—before  
Mine inner vision rose a form sublime,  
Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime  
I saw thee, in my own loved native clime.  
 
Therefore I fain would consecrate a lay        
 Unto thy honor, Tree, beloved of those  
 Who now in blessed sleep for aye repose,—  
Dearer than life to me, alas, were they!  
 Mayst thou be numbered when my days are done  
With deathless trees—like those in Borrowdale,         
Under whose awful branches lingered pale  
 “Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,  
And Time the shadow;” and though weak the verse  
That would thy beauty fain, oh, fain rehearse,  

May Love defend thee from Oblivion’s curse

Toru Dutt



Where’s the moon

 
Whenever I see the moon, especially the full moon I’m reminded of the poem Silver by Sir Walter de la Mare.  It was one of the early poems I remember reciting and loving. Mrs. Irene Kapoor( I. Kapoor miss to us), our English teacher had interpreted it so nicely.

I felt the poet in me stirring and  came up with this. I have decided I will post my poems however idiotic they might be. After all I have got only  this life to live, so I might as well live without any inhibitions. Better to be embarrassed and laughed at  than to live out my days as a coward. I might as well get on with it. Cheers !
 
The moon is full and bright,
I look at it wistfully
with dreams in my eyes.
 
I wish I could stare into the eyes of a loved one,
and see the moon light reflected in its shadowy depths.
 
The yellow moon with grey scars on its face,
vibrating and pulsating like a living thing,
reminding me of my heart pumping along for dear life.
 
Overflowing with feelings,
with joys and sorrows,
radiating and shining forth,
showing others silvery light,
itself burning bright.
 
Ah the moon’s bright tonight,
so bright it hurts my eyes.
Tears spring forth free and fast,
it’s so heartbreakingly beautiful,
 that I cry.

Upagupta

 

  Upagupta, the disciple of Buddha, lay sleep in
the dust by the city wall of Mathura.
Lamps were all out, doors were all shut, and
stars were all hidden by the murky sky of August.
Whose feet were those tinkling with anklets,
touching his breast of a sudden?
He woke up startled, and a light from a woman’s
lamp fell on his forgiving eyes.
It was dancing girl, starred with jewels,
Wearing a pale blue mantle, drunk with the wine
of her youth.
She lowered her lamp and saw young face
austerely beautiful.
“Forgive me, young ascetic,” said the woman,
“Graciously come to my house. The dusty earth
is not fit bed for you.”
The young ascetic answered, “Woman,
go on your way;
When the time is ripe I will come to you.”
Suddenly the black night showed its teeth
in a flash of lightening.
The storm growled from the corner of the sky, and
The woman trembled in fear of some unknown danger.
* * *
A year has not yet passed.
It was evening of a day in April,
in spring season.
The branches of the way side trees were full of blossom.
Gay notes of a flute came floating in the
warm spring air from a far.
The citizens had gone to the woods for the
festival of flowers.
From the mid sky gazed the full moon on the
shadows of the silent town.
The young ascetic was walking along the lonely street,
While overhead the love-sick koels uttered from the
mango branches their sleepless plaint.
Upagupta passed through the city gates, and
stood at the base of the rampart.
Was that a woman lying at his feet in the
shadow of the mango grove?
Stuck with black prestilence, her body
spotted with sores of small-pox,
She had been hurriedly removed from the town
To avoid her poisonous contagion.
The ascetic sat by her side, took her head
on his knees,
And moistened her lips with water, and
smeared her body with sandal balm.
“Who are you, merciful one?” asked the woman.
“The time, at last, has come to visit you, and
I am here,” replied the young ascetic.
Rabindranath Tagore
We had this poem in our English Literature syllabus. The well thumbed Wings of Poesy ,the  poetry book which contains the above poem still exists. I can’t help but go back to that time,to the naive thirteen year old with a million crazy ideas and romantic dreams of becoming a writer someday and living in the country. Whenever I read the poem I am transported back into school,sitting in my assigned seat in class, listening to the lilting voice of our teacher and taking notes when required. It’s as if nothing has changed but everything has changed,on the outside at least.

In the End










If by Rudyard Kipling 

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


This poem was there  in my literature course book called the Wings of Poesy in 8th standard. For some reason it wasn’t included in the prescribed syllabus(I have no clue on what basis they select or reject certain things) and hence it wasn’t taught in class, but it was and is, one of my favourite poems for the message it delivers and hope it gives the reader.That there is always scope for improvement and its never ever too late to be the best version of yourself. It teaches one to be calm and forgiving,to bear everything with a smile and be unruffled by both ecstasy and pain, and handle everything in between with something that resembles(and most probably is) stoicism.Ultimately it is about being human and having humanity.