That blanket I started while pregnant
Those cloth dolls I started while pregnant
That quilt I started while pregnant
That needlepoint project I started while pregnant
That round robin quilt block group I started while pregnant
That needle felting
So many lives
I started while pregnant
This is just to say
I have discovered
the thank-you note
I wrote you
I never mailed
but I did stamp
we loved those books
and so dear
Does this spark chagrin
Does this spark regret
Does this spark your life flashing before your eyes
Does this spark a memory of that time we
We interrupt this reading journal for a brief burst of mommyblogging. (But I promise you some Poetry Friday at the end.) The child whose blog name was decided before his real name was firmly settled upon…turns eight years old today.
Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,—
Blessings on the barefoot boy!
The poem’s final stanza paints a somewhat grim vision of the boy’s likely future—”Made to tread the mills of toil,/Up and down in ceaseless moil”—but we’ll acknowledge that the weary adult may from time to time experience a pang of envy, looking at the carefree child with his life before him, “living and laughing as boyhood can.” Eat, drink, and be merry, the poet seems to be urging the child, for tomorrow you must get a job.
This bleak perspective sent me seeking to find out more about Whittier. I learned that he worked as editor of several weekly papers, including the New England Weekly Review, and was a passionate and active abolitionist. His anti-slavery publications and lobbying efforts earned him much enmity, including being stoned by angry mobs. He was politically active, pushing for legislation to end slavery, and was a founder of the Liberty Party which eventually morphed into the Free Soil Party. In addition to numerous abolitionist pamphlets, he published two volumes of antislavery poetry. In the late 1840s and ’50s, he served as editor of an influential abolitionist paper called The National Era. He was one of the founding contributors of the Atlantic Monthly. He was supportive of women writers, and in fact Sarah Orne Jewett, with whom he worked closely, dedicated one of her books to him. In short: Whittier was one of the good guys. And the wistfulness with which he urges the Barefoot Boy to celebrate his current joy and freedom makes sense in the context of Whittier’s grim awareness of the work that awaits him in the adult world. The more I learned about him, the more I saw that my initial take on the poem was a bit reductive.
I came to realize this was a particularly apt poem for me to ponder on my son’s birthday, here at the dawn of 2017. I understand why Whittier can’t extol the delights of a magical childhood—rooted in the small delights of the natural world, “rich in flowers and trees,/ Humming-birds and honey-bees…”—without his mind running to the toil that awaits the boy when he’s grown. We’re not finished yet. In the world of man, there remains a great deal to be done.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.
And poetry keeps the intensity and the passion of a point of view, but in a forum where people aren’t hurting each other. It says, “Here’s what it’s like from my point of view.” All you have to do is listen to the poet.
And, in that, you don’t have to be anything other than what you are. The poem is a catalyst where you’re bringing two different kinds of people together. And at its best, when it works, there’s a kind of spark, and everyone comes away illuminated by what the spark has ignited.
Something there is that does love a wall,
That sends the gangly boy-limbs clambering up
And bids the mother not to fuss or call
Out words of caution, not to spoil the bliss
Of racing, arms outspread, along the bricks,
Along the road that crests the world, the whole
Huge world six cinder blocks and seven leagues
Below. The boy is king, is wind, and she
Must hush: just study shrubs in neighbors’ yards,
Imagine herself a Seventies mom, unfazed
By threats to skull, spine, ulna, femur.
He shouts, he leaps; the earth (a mother too)
Shivers, lets loose the cord of gravity
This once, just once, and also on the next
Block, the next wall, each ridge that lures
Him skyward all the long way home.
Today is the last meeting of this year’s Poetry Club. The fall session was short, just six weeks (minus one when we all suddenly realized Halloween fell on a Friday). We’ve expanded to three age groups now: littles, middles, and bigs. In the older group, we’ve been looking at some poetic forms and doing close readings. Today we’re going off on a different tack and hunting up poems about food. I challenged the kids to write their own poems about food or Thanksgiving, and that’ll be the best part, seeing what they’ve come up with. 🙂
Last week in my littles group, the funniest thing happened. We were looking at animal poems, and I had put out a stack of children’s poetry books for the kids to rummage through. They would find a poem and either read it aloud or have me read it. Usually they wanted me to do the reading. We ended with the selection of one small girl from a lovely collection of nature poems. She had picked a spread that featured the medieval song “Sumer Is Icumen In” with a contemporary translation on the recto. “You read it,” she urged, sliding the book across the floor toward me. I dove in and was well underway when I remembered that one line in the middle—the one that brought my college Medieval Lit class to fits of giggles. The modern translation hewed pretty close to the original.
“Bullock starteth, buck farteth.”
This is a group of six-to-eight-year-olds. You can imagine the hilarity. That’s one poem they’ll never forget. 🙂
I really think what I love most about that poem, more even than its exuberance and exultation over the return of lovely weather, is its window on human nature. Seven hundred years later: we still enjoy a good fart joke.
Bring me all of your dreams,
Bring me all your
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.
SUCH a great poetry class with my Journey North kids today. Iambic meter with lots of examples; personification & anthropomorphism; Langston Hughes. Lots of laughter as they thought up ending lines for an unfinished poem in iambic tetrameter. Only three more meetings to go in this short six-week session, before we break for the summer. It’s gone so fast! We’ll pick up again in a bit, though.
Arthur Rackham illustration from Some British Ballads, 1919.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
Our poetry selections for today, as we move out of Chaucer and into some medieval ballads: “The Twa Corbies” and its English cousin, “The Three Ravens.” Just a little something light and cheerful for a chilly November day. You know, light like sunbleached bones.
The Twa Corbies
As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies makin a mane;
The tane unto the ither say,
“Whar sall we gang and dine the-day?”
“In ahint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new slain knight;
And nane do ken that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound an his lady fair.”
“His hound is tae the huntin gane,
His hawk tae fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady’s tain anither mate,
So we may mak oor dinner swate.”
“Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I’ll pike oot his bonny blue een;
Wi ae lock o his gowden hair
We’ll theek oor nest whan it grows bare.”
“Mony a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken whar he is gane;
Oer his white banes, whan they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair.”
For Poetry Friday, two of the poems from Rilla’s poem house. The Dickinson is hanging on the wall now, as she requested, and she has plans for the Sandburg piece, which she says is her very favorite, tomorrow.
It’s All I Have to Bring Today
by Emily Dickinson
It’s all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.
Between Two Hills
by Carl Sandburg
Between two hills
The old town stands.
The houses loom
And the roofs and trees
And the dusk and the dark,
The damp and the dew
The prayers are said
And the people rest
For sleep is there
And the touch of dreams
Is over all.