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This report is taken from PN Review 186, Volume 35 Number 4, March - April 2009.

Then and Only Then Frank Kuppner

My mother, as I remember, had a trio of party-piece recitals at her command. One was to sing Schubert’s Erl King (she was a fine natural contralto and had taken lessons in her youth) - which, alas, I very much disliked. (A mere translation, of course; but who was any the better off for a useless story like that?) The second was to deliver bleeding (or, indeed, bloodless) chunks of The Ancient Mariner - which, alas, I disliked even more. (Excuse me, Loon. I have an important social engagement to get to, know what I mean?) And the third was, to declaim passages from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Fitzgerald version, 1st Edition, as I discovered later) - which, for some immediate reason, I loved right from the start. Soon enough, I bought a small illustrated copy of Omar for her at Christmas (the book wasn’t in the house - oddly few books were) and I duly read through it myself more than once, which I fear may have been the main idea behind the gift all along.

I dare say, for such is the way of these brief adolescent bouts of improving application, that I must have studied the earlier verses rather more frequently than I did the later ones. But it was fairly surprising under the circumstances that one studied any poetry at all. Even so, this was clearly the real thing; love at first sight. (I only wish it still meant quite as much ...


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