Italo Calvino, Classics and Hafez

I’m reading Why read the classics? by Italo Calvino, and it’s good. His joy and enthusiasm for the books he’s talking about is palpable. I like Greek and Roman mythology anyway, but the chapter ‘Ovid and Universal Contiguity’ made me want to drop Calvino (possibly not his intended effect) and rush out and read Metamorphoses instead.

I picked it up because of the title, I confess I know next to nothing about Calvino himself. Why we should read one particular group of books versus all the other reading material that gets thrust under our eyes on a day to day basis (Have you been on the Internet? There’s interesting stuff to read everywhere, it’s a wonder we can get anything done, and a wonder small blogs can compete) is an interesting question, one people seem to tangle with quite often.

Calvino’s answer so far seems to be ‘for love’ for the most part, but I haven’t finished yet, and that’s a gross over simplification. I’ll revisit it.

The other accidental discovery I’ve made recently is ‘Your mother and my mother‘ by the sufi poet Hafez. I usually struggle to find poetry I like but this one struck a chord. I particularly like the first and last verses:

‘Fear is the cheapest room in the house
I would like to see you living
In better conditions,’

‘Fear is the cheapest room’ has some excellent connotations. It’s easiest to get to, but poor quality; you can live there if you like, but you’d probably be much more comfortable living somewhere else.

The last verse is:

‘Your heart and my heart
are very, very old

And I like that one just because I thought it was a simple, beautiful description of love.

So sue me, I’m a romantic at heart.

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