Lovers, Lunatics and Poets

1935 A Midsummer Night's Dream

The lover, the lunatic and the poet are all of one mind. Their seething brains shape such fantasies that reason could never comprehend. The lunatic sees more devils than hell can hold. The frantic lover sees Helen’s beauty in an average visage. The poet looks from earth to heaven and back again in a fine frenzy. The writer’s pen creates things that never existed before. The words embody them.

Lately, I have relished the wee hours. The cool blackness is peaceful. Often I’ve wished that dawn would not come; that I could lie in the peaceful solitude… indefinitely.



This week, I was inspired one wee hour to switch on the light clamped to the headboard and write a bit.

This is a poem, but I will string the lines together so as not to chase any of you away. (The “verse” version is at the end of this book story.)

The night breeze sighs. It is a sea sound of calm waters coming to shore. If the wind could whisper, then this would be its speech. Air, water—fluid forces of nature moving softly out in the black night. Fresh breath flows in the windows. My lungs take in the scentless health. They fill and empty. Little waves that flow and ebb. My own personal atmosphere. Tiny tides in and out. “Hushhhh…” the wind whispers. I would this dark comfort stay. “Hush,” the wind whispers in an endless syllable.

I almost never lie in bed just to read or think or daze and doze.

Monday, June 5. I am doing just that. It is cool and quiet. 69 degrees inside. 58 out.

The drought continues. Apparently, it rained when I was in Venice a month ago. It has not rained since I returned. The phone predicts no rain for the next ten days at least. But the world outside my windows remains a brilliant green.

I was up very early this Monday. I read some. I dozed. I checked the clock periodically. I couldn’t go back to sleep completely because I knew I had to go in to work before anyone arrived.

I had left in a hurry on Sunday. I went to the New Market Plains Winery to meet friends at 4. I left some things in disarray and unlabeled. I planned to return after dinner, but I was just too tired to go all the way back in.

When I awoke about 4 a.m., it occurred to me.

‘Damn!’ I thought. ‘I’ve got to go back in or my work might get messed up.’

I had a mission over the weekend. I had vowed to clear the toughest, dustiest, ugliest, most complex carts in the sorting area.

Some carts are pretty easy for me. All books. Mostly 20th and 21st century. I just sharpshoot the titles that call out that they should go to the stores or the internet or research. Those that don’t speak to me remain on the cart and get rolled up to Books by the Foot, where someone will rescue those that can be used for decorative purposes. (All the kids’ books are saved, unless too damaged for reuse, to be donated or sold cheap in bulk.) These easy carts are labeled “DNA.”


They are mostly pre-ISBN or titles published with no ISBN or barcode. Each must be inspected. We can’t trust the machine to quantify the book in an automated way the way it does with most “numbered” books. There are often treasures on these carts. Happy surprises that leap off the metal shelves of the rolling carts and into my hands. Among the finds this week were inscribed William Carlos Williams, Randall Jarrell, Richard Eberhart, Robert Frost, Galway Kinnell… mid 20th century poets that spoke to me when I was young and studied (the then modern) poetry under William Meredith at Connecticut College.

The contents on these carts are mostly “books.”

A second type of cart that gets sent to me is labeled “Chuck.” These carts are also almost all books. But these books are all old. Mostly antiquarian. I guess the definition of antiquarian changes as years pass. When I was young, I was taught that an “antique” had to be at least 100 years old. By that definition, a Fitzgerald novel from 1923 would be an antique. It used to be called a modern first.

99% of old books are simply old books. There is no market for them.

Ahhh… but the 1% can be a thrill!

This lot came off a cart.

Pretty Books

They smell of old cigarette smoke, but eventually that will go away. Among the beautiful bindings is a sammelband which includes a 1790 Thomas Paine bound with three other 18th century philosophical/political works.

18th Century Book

It is my job to find the 1% and not miss a single one. Some of the other 99% get a price slapped on them and put in boxes to be sent to the stores because they are pretty or quirky objects. Those remaining on the carts get rolled to Books by the Foot to be “rescued” for decorative purposes.

This week we shipped a 380 linear foot order of “vintage” books. Our definition of vintage means the book was made before 1940. That definition won’t change for us because book bindings just look different if they were bound after that date.

(380 feet. If you are reading this in a room with an 8-foot ceiling, those books would fill 47 floor-to-ceiling stacks. That is a PILE of books we save from the pulper!)

A third type of cart that comes my way has no label. I guess one could call it a “mash.” (I just came up with that term.) They are always an ugly mess. This is material—mostly paper—that has been accumulated on the shelves of the cart because no one knows what to do with it. Periodicals, letterheads, sheet music, broadsides, brochures, ephemera, old advertising… stuff.

This signed Matisse print was found laid into a book. It is from the series he did for The Odyssey—the Limited Edition Club edition. This image shows Odysseus blinding the cyclops Polyphemus. The monster is screaming in pain.

Matisse Polyphemus

“Who is blinding you?” his brothers call from afar.

“‘No Man’ is blinding me!”

“Drunk again.”

Here are images of three types of carts.

DNA Cart
DNA Cart
Chuck Cart
Chuck Cart
"Mash" Cart
“Mash” Cart

Which of these would you attend to first?

Which would you avoid until shame or a sense of duty or a touch of masochism draws you to it?

I got through all the DNA and Chuck carts by midmorning on Sunday. That left a half-dozen ugly monsters looking at me as if daring me to eat their dust.

I did just that.

I cheated a bit with the scrapbooks, diaries, photo albums, stamp collections… those I stuck on bookcases that previously had burgundy-colored-spined remainders on them for Books by the Foot.

By late Sunday afternoon, I had conquered all the carts in the sorting area. There are still some outliers elsewhere in the building.

But the sorting area was cleared of carts.

Sorting Area Clear of Carts

It was very satisfying. But like sand holes dug on the strand, I know they will soon fill again.


Sisyphean futility.

My lot. My albatross. My joy. My one talent.

After clearing all those carts, I was exhausted but also drained. So many words and images had battered my brain that day.

It was a perfect late spring afternoon to go and sit in a vineyard.

I paid for my mini vacation with the grapes by dragging myself to work before anyone got in on Monday. I labeled everything. I picked up odds and ends I’d left around. I went home and climbed into bed and dozed.

It is Wednesday already. Ernest is driving us to the Gaithersburg store. There are Books by the Foot subject orders we need to pull. This is a symbiotic relationship for the stores and the books. We will pull gardening, cooking, lit, scifi… We will cull dupes and aging titles. (All books have a date code on the price stickers.) These “culls” will be repurposed as “new” stock for Books by the Foot orders.

We are also meeting the contractor down there. He is recovering from a procedure and can’t lift much weight for another 4 weeks. But I came up with an idea for an innovation in that store that will permit us to finally put in some glass cases for collectibles. (They will likely be plexiglass doors.) So, he can “work” on the plans. Planning involves no heavy lifting, so he is still following doctor’s orders.


Avoid them.

They always find something dread.

The dread diagnoses for 25 years have not meant a thing.

Now I have a new “dread” which dominates each day.

Before we left Frederick, I planted more tomatoes and peppers in the warehouse gardens. It is pretty late. But because of the extended drought, many of the plants I put in during May are stunted. They may just “bolt” and give up. Then they would remain stunted and unproductive. The soil is good but dry and dusty. I added some moist compost to each hole and gave each new plant a good dose of water. I’m tired of hand watering the warehouse gardens. There’s no hose bib on the building that I can find.

I love going to the stores now. None are dysfunctional. All have good talent and morale. It shows when you walk into the store. It shows on the bottom line as well. We met last week to go over the May figures. Sales at all three stores were up double digits from May 2022 in all categories.


The past week has even been very social. That is quite an anomaly in my post-COVID hermetic life. One day I interacted with the new housekeeper—a long time acquaintance—until nearly 9 p.m. when she announced she was finally satisfied with her work. I was exhausted by then. But a clean house is a JOY!!

Thursday, an old friend came to visit from Philly. She is a semi-retired rare bookseller, Ivy League PhD and perhaps the nicest, kindest person in the world. (Why would such a person want to visit me!?) I had visited her a couple of years ago when she and her partner were in the throes of closing shop. Upon arrival, I gave her a tour of the warehouse. She oohed and ahhed at the usual vistas. I drove her downtown to see the beauty of Friedrichstadt. (Frederick City’s original 18th century moniker.) We shared a bottle of bubbly seated outside overlooking the Carroll Creek Promenade. It was a Cremant d’Alsace Rose. We had apps of fried green tomatoes, fancy deviled eggs, French bread lightly grilled in a touch of herb-infused olive oil and… something else. We walked around a little more in the beautiful, antique, vibrant downtown. She also wanted to see the store, but it was closed by then. We drove by it. From there, it was up the mountain. We chatted in the dark of the nighttime bay window with the twinkling lights far away in the valley below. I was glad the housekeeper had come. The guest bedroom looked great.

My friend slept in a bit Friday morning. That was fine. I could do the final tweaks on the Friday blog. When she was up, we carried mugs of French press coffee around the garden paths. The acres of nearly lime-green fern brakes were nearly electric in their brilliance. Then it was down the bumpy mountain lane and across the valley to the warehouse. She had an engagement with a college rare book librarian across the Mason Dixon. I told her I hoped it wouldn’t be another 12 years before her next visit. She thanked me and left me with a jar of fancy paprika. Oh! She also left me what may be the last books leftover from the dissolution of her rare book business. A dozen or so boxes of heavy old tech texts. We agreed they were not so great. But then “not so great” books are a specialty of ours.

That evening, my son and his husband met me at Lothlorien. It is likely going to be sold at the end of June. This might be his last visit there. He spent a lot of hours growing up on the estate. Barbara loved him. He would often play selections from The Lord of the Rings movies on her grand piano in the solarium. But before his last tour of the gardens, there were boxes of books to load in my truck. I’d like to think I am a welcome guest, not just because I’m willing to haul away unwanted books when I leave. I’m kidding. I know I’d be welcome even if I refused people’s books.

These books were actually exciting. They were mostly Barbara’s own gardening books which had been left to Ray and Jay to help them properly resurrect her various gardens when they bought the property in 2015.

It was a wonderful evening. We had a wondrous dinner of chicken tikka masala in the formal dining room. I wonder if that will be my last meal at Lothlorien.

Then last Saturday, the family met in Great Falls, Virginia. It was a birthday. We went to L’Auberge Chez Francois. I’ve wanted to go for decades. When I was a kid, my parents took me to Chez Francois when it was in DC. It opened in 1954.

It was like time travel. Everything was superb, from snails to souffles.

Sunday was the winery and dinner out after.

Tuesday was the first meeting of the Metaphysical Club since before COVID. The club has no rules or purpose. Just a bunch of guys getting together to drink a bit and shoot the…

I was glad to be home a little this week.

Though I did drag myself downtown on Thursday night for the screening of the Wonder Book Classic Film Series presentation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. It was the 1935 version…

It is a life of words for me.

Words before me almost constantly at work.

Words propped on me in bed.

Words on the walls all around the house.

Millions of books in every view at the warehouse.

Too many words piled on the floors everywhere I work and live.

Words entering my mind through my eyes and firing off synapses.

Sometimes I feel battered by words.


The valley is full of smoke. There is an opaque gray-white wall beyond the tree line.

Smoky Valley

When I stepped outside with one of the dogs, there was a slightly acrid smell. Even up here, there’s some haze in the forest that makes everything look a little out of focus.

The weather report is not good. The air quality is bad. A little north of here, it is terrible. It is the first “Purple Alert” our region has ever experienced.

6/8 Air Quality

And there is still no rain coming to wash the air.

I planted more peppers and tomatoes in the warehouse gardens yesterday. The soil is powdery dust. I’ve been lugging an old galvanized watering can out every day and drizzling water over the seedlings I put in over a month ago. The tomatoes are doing ok. They look pretty sturdy. The pepper plants are mostly stunted. Almost none of the seeds I planted have come up. I guess I’ll put some more in. But it is getting pretty late.

At home, I’ve stopped trying to transplant things into the new beds. I guess I’ll drag out the second lengths of hoses in the upper and lower yards, so I can reach the distant beds.

Last night, I took the big recycling container down in the pickup. It is a tall, blue, heavy plastic thing with two wheels. Pickup is every other Thursday. I use so little “stuff” in my hermetic home-life that I only take it down every 6 or even 8 weeks.

Paper and cans go to Wonder Book for recycling. Organic material is either eaten by Merry & Pip (or me.) Leftover plant material is hidden under bigger plants in the beds. I don’t put anything out that would attract critters.

It is a small life I lead up here.

On the way back home from the county road, I stopped at one of three flatlander estates. Those are neighbors who live at the foot of the mountain on the same private lane. One has a pile of deadfall in their field that doubles as a large yard. They dragged some trunks and limbs into a pile. It has been there for several months. I texted over a month ago to see if they wanted me to take some. I don’t think they burn much wood. I wanted to help them out. A young couple with two small children and a massive St Bernard mix—white with a black eye patch. The dog runs frantically along the fence whenever anyone drives by. In about half an hour, I had most of a pickup truck load. I don’t need firewood. There’s enough to get to 2025 in the barn already. But I enjoy the experience. It is almost Zen-like for me. I get into a “zone” with the chainsaw. I “know” without thinking where to set the blade to work. Angles and lengths and widths. Safety first, of course, but another big concern is being sure about any stresses on the logs. If you cut too far into the wood and the log closes on itself, your chain can get pinched—stuck. Then you need a second saw to free it. When I’d had enough, I loaded the wood in the big black Dodge Ram and headed up the mountain.

Easy firewood is good firewood. This was on flat grassy ground. I’ll ask to see if they want any more removed.

It is a good workout. I hope to be slinging firewood into my 80s and perhaps beyond.

Tonight is the final Wonder Book sponsored book film at the Weinberg Theater. A Midsummer’s Night Dream. 1935. With Jimmy Cagney.

We are already looking at next season. The theater director and I banter a bit over film choices. The next lineup looks like this:


Fahrenheit 451 is a great choice especially in these times. So let’s go with this line up.

Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) = Sept 14, 2023 7:30 PM
The Maltese Falcon (1941) = Oct 12, 2023 7:30 PM
Moby Dick (1956) = Nov 9, 2023 7:30 PM
The Polar Express (2004) = Dec 2, 2023 2 PM (Only December date before Christmas that I have left.)
Fahrenheit 451 (1966) = Jan 11, 2024 7:30 PM
After The Thin Man (1936) = Feb 8, 2024 7:30 PM
Grapes of Wrath (1940) = March 14, 2024 7:30 PM
Field of Dreams (1989) = April 11,2024 7:30 PM
Seabiscuit (2003) = May 23, 2024 7:30 PM
Wizard of Oz (1939) = June 13, 2024 7:30 PM (75th Anniversary)

I wonder what 2024 and 2025 will be like. I need to start planning trips and things.

On Monday, I bought a lot of chicken when I went to Walmart for a prescription. A LOT. It was on sale, and I thought it would be a treat for me and the dogs to grill a bunch of it. Boneless thighs are cheaper per pound than dog food. I don’t go to stores very often. But on Monday, the grill wouldn’t start. It is getting old. I thought the canister might be empty, but it felt pretty heavy. On Tuesday, I took it and the spare to be refilled at Southern States. That evening, the grill came on just fine. I spread two packages of chicken on the grill and set the fire on low. Then I went and spread some of the bagged Delaware River pebbles onto the patio. Some spots were looking kind of bare. I came back and put the other two packages on and turned the heat up a bit. The floor of the barn is “paved” with this decorative gravel as well and some bare patches had developed. I cut the plastic bags I’d hefted in there with a boxcutter and dumped them out. The bags weigh 70 pounds, I think. “Oof!” They didn’t use to be so HEAVY! When I returned to the grill, smoke was billowing out, and I could see small fires flickering under the steel hood.


The cuts are a bit charred, but I like that.

Grilled Chicken

Last night, I made my usual salad. Romaine, baby cukes, chopped Vidalia onion… This time I put a couple dollops of tzatziki on it and sliced a chicken breast over it. I pulled out a jar of capers from the back of the fridge. It was long expired. I took it out and dumped it under the daylilies. I opened a new jar of caper berries and picked some out as a garnish. I watched a couple of old Star Trek episodes while I had my delicious meal.

One was “Metamorphosis”, starring Elinor Donahue and Glenn Corbett. Corbett replaced George Maharis on Rt 66. Maharis died last week in his mid-90s. I spent weeks watching Rt 66 early in COVID. That helped me escape the insanity going on all around the world.

It was good to have a quiet evening at home. It had been a pretty physical day with all the culling in Gaithersburg, the many carts at the warehouse, cutting and hauling wood and the subsequent chores at home.

Life and work, it is not futile.

Coincidences bother me.

That said, there are a lot of coincidences in my life. It goes with the territory. I see so many things. And I do so many things. The law of averages would dictate that I run into a lot of coincidental things.

Last week, I wrote about a dream. Ray and Jay, the friends who own Barbara’s Lorien estate, had an antiquarian bookstore. In the dream, they vividly presented an early 17th century Gerard’s Herbal to me. It appeared several times in the dream. It resembled my own copy, which I purchased from Ken Karmiole a decade or more ago. (I posted a picture of it last week.) At that time, I had no idea they had any of Barbara’s gardening books in their collection. Nor did I have a clue they would be offloading many of them as well as some of her other books to me a couple of days later.

On Monday this week, I drove the big Dodge pickup to work. It was full of Barbara boxes. I pulled around back to the dockyard and had them loaded onto a pallet. Later that morning, I began sorting through them.

I enjoyed that. I was touching books that she had used to create her Xanadu of garden beds and features. Many had her name written in them, signifying ownership.

She loved antique roses, and there were many books about them.

One box yielded a large folio.

Facsimile Gerard's Herbal

It was a facsimile edition of Gerard’s Herbal. The same edition I’d dreamt of last week. It was from Ray and Jay and, by proxy, Barbara.

That certainly caused some tingles.

(“Still keeping in touch, Barbara? I miss you. When Lorien is sold, there won’t be many more opportunities for connections with you. But I’ll keep my mind and heart open. Hoping. These stories are in no small part a result of her encouragement over many years. ‘You’re a good writer. You will get published,’ you told me.”)

One of my muses… I need to finish a couple of muse stories.

Ray also brought some of his own books later on Monday. These enormous Egyptian folios no longer have a place in their collection at their new home so far away.

Egyptian Folios

Too many friends going away.

Not enough new ones appearing to fill the voids.

Just books.

Books and work.

I almost skipped last night’s movie. It had been a busy day. It didn’t screen until 7:30.

I went home and sliced one of the charred chicken breasts onto a few small corn tortillas. I sprinkled some cheese on. Some jarred sliced jalapenos. Some herbs. I set them in the oven to toast and went out to empty the firewood from the pickup.

I watched an old Star Trek episode while I ate.

I looked at my nanny watch.

“I need to leave now if I’m going.”

I forced myself to bump down the mountain and drive into the city.

I found a seat in the center of the fifth row. No one was around.

The black and white film flickered to life. The Mendelssohn overture enveloped me.

It was a delight to be immersed in Hollywood’s 1935 take on Shakespeare.

1935 A Midsummer Night's Dream

Fairies, goblins, sprites, Puck (whatever he is), Bottom the ass, Oberon, Titania.



Costume processions.

A play within a play.



An enchanted forest.

It was very much an ancestor to the Tolkien and Harry Potter movies.

The special effects impressive.

The actors excellent and beautiful. The acting enthralling—if a bit over the top sometimes.


In Act 5 Scene 1, Theseus posited:

Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold:
That is, the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

The scene stuck with me. And the sentiment. I took it home with me after the dreams’ happy endings.

I’m glad it did.

6/6/23 Mt

The night breeze sighs.
It is a sea sound of calm waters coming to shore.
If wind could whisper,
then this would be its speech.
Air, water—fluid forces of nature
moving softly out in the black night.
Fresh breath flows in the windows.
My lungs take in the scentless health.
They fill and empty.
Little air waves flow and ebb.
My own personal atmosphere.
Tiny tides in and out.
“Hushhhh…” the wind whispers.
I would this dark comfort stay.

“Hush,” the wind whispers.

2 Comments on Article

  1. Michael Dirda commented on

    This week’s essay was particularly elegant, varied and informative. You’re such a sybarite! I have no interest in food or drink to speak of–except for enjoying both–but I do get a kick out of your lip-smacking descriptions of your meals, both at home and in restaurants.
    Randall Jarrell is one of my old heroes. I used to correspond with his widow Mary and have a few photos and tsotschkes she sent me, not to mention multiple copies of his books.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      High praise indeed!
      Thank you so much Michael!
      The movie really triggered an epiphany.
      I’ve always been a Jarrell fan as well. His first(?) wife – Mackie(?) was a p[rofessor of English at Connecticut College and I chatted with her occasionally.
      She was also from the same small town in Texas as my father.

      Come visit!


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