Friday, August 31, 2007

Always Finish by Anonymous

Always Finish

If a task is once begun,
Never leave it till it's done.
Be the labor great or small,
Do it well or not at all.
-- Anonymous

So it's Labor Day weekend! Peter and I will be working. What will you be doing?

I have mixed emotions about Labor Day. On one hand, I greatly respect the world's workers, and everyone who goes off to do their job every day. I am sympathetic to the union organizers of the last century -- there were serious abuses that needed to be stopped. I'm less sympathetic to organized labor today, though. When the grocery store workers go on strike because they have to pay for some portion of their health care coverage, I find that I can't feel sorry for how oppressed they are. Maybe I'm just naive because I've always had pretty good jobs with fair pay and benefits -- or if they weren't fair, I quit because I knew I could get something better. Maybe if the unions went away, employers would really start oppressing people again. I don't know.

This poem is short and to the point. It reminds me of something Polonius might have said, or maybe something stitched into a sampler.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.

With a load of iron ore - 26,000 tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early

The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconson
As the big freighters go it was bigger than most
With a crew and the Captain well seasoned.

Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ships bell rang
Could it be the North Wind they'd been feeling.

The wind in the wires made a tattletale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the Captain did, too,
T'was the witch of November come stealing.

The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashing
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane West Wind

When supper time came the old cook came on deck
Saying fellows it's too rough to feed ya
At 7PM a main hatchway caved in
He said fellas it's been good to know ya.

The Captain wired in he had water coming in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the words turn the minutes to hours
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd fifteen more miles behind her.

They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the ruins of her ice water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.

And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered.

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed, 'til it rang 29 times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.
--Gordon Lightfoot

This song, suggested by my brother Steve in his comments to Hiawatha, is very much in the tradition of the old ballads of the sea, often composed by sailors to commemorate great battles or shipwrecks. There's a very simple tune, and the rhythm and rhyme schemes don't have to be followed very closely. The import thing in this kind of poem/song is that it's easy to sing and remember.

This song commemorates an actual tragedy that happened on Nov 10, 1975. There was a bad storm, and the overloaded ship began taking on water through hatches that wouldn't quite seal (they were scheduled for repair at the end of that month when shipping stopped for the winter). The ship lost both its radars, began to list (lean over to one side because of uneven weight in the hold), and eventually just couldn't recover when hit by a couple of especially big waves. There's an excellent explanation of the conditions and radio communications throughout the night at this site.

Peter's sister Helena kindly found the lyrics to the filk song The Ballad of Apollo XIII for us, but since this post is long enough already, I'll put them in as a comment.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chamber Music-VIII by James Joyce

Chamber Music-VIII

Who goes amid the green wood
With springtide all adorning her?
Who goes amid the merry green wood
To make it merrier?

Who passes in the sunlight
By ways that know the light footfall?
Who passes in the sweet sunlight
With mien so virginal?

The ways of all the woodland
Gleam with a soft and golden fire -- -
For whom does all the sunny woodland
Carry so brave attire?

O, it is for my true love
The woods their rich apparel wear -- -
O, it is for my own true love,
That is so young and fair.
--James Joyce

I have a little book of Jame Joyce's poetry that I've been reading a page or two a day out of lately. It's a very short book, and I'm not overly impressed by the poems, so I'm trying to get through it so that I can give it away without feeling guilty.

It's hard to say why I don't like most of the poems. I don't actively dislike's just that they don't do much for me. Often, they start out with a promising line or image, then fall flat at the end -- and they're not even that long.

Anyway, here's one I did like.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Subversive Limericks by Anonymous

Too Short Progression

There once was a man from the sticks
Who liked to compose limericks.
But he failed at the sport,
For he wrote 'em too short.

There was a young man from Hong Kong
Who found limericks much too long.
He got to line three

There was a young man from Peru
Whose limericks stopped at line two

There was a young man of Verdun

A Decrepit Old Gas Man Named Peter,

A decrepit old gas man named Peter,
While hunting around for the meter,
Touched a leak with his light;
He rose out of sight,
And as anyone who knows anything about poetry can tell you, he also ruined the meter.

There Once Was a Man of St. Bees,

There once was a man of St. Bees
Who was stung on the arm by a wasp.
When asked, "Does it hurt?"
He replied, "No it doesn't.
I'm so glad it wasn't a hornet."
--W. S. Gilbert

Here are some of the sort of limericks that Peter likes. There are lots of this sort of thing out there if you look for them.

The other day, Peter asked me if I minded that he didn't like poetry much. I told him No. It used to bother me, lo many years ago, but it doesn't anymore. I like good poetry because it's got just the right words, cleverly arranged. A lot of what Peter does in editing translations is trying to find just the right word. He likes humorous poems like these because of the clever choice and arrangement of words. He likes, and has memorized a lot of filk songs that have to fit words and ideas to tunes that were meant to express something else entirely. In other words, he likes it when just the right words are cleverly arranged -- precisely what I like about poetry. Beyond that, it's just genre preference, which has no inherent virtue, it's just a question of taste.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Hiawatha's Childhood (Selections) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hiawatha's Childhood (Selections)

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them.
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

Of all beasts he learned the language,
Learned their names and all their secrets,
How the beavers built their lodges.
Where the squirrels hid their acorns,
How the reindeer ran so swiftly,
Why the rabbit was so timid,
Talked with them whene'er he met them,
Called them "Hiawatha's Brothers."

Then Iagoo the great boaster,
He the marvelous story-teller,
He the traveler and the talker,
He the friend of old Nokomis,
Made a bow for Hiawatha;
From a branch of ash he made it,
From an oak bough made the arrows,
Tipped with flint, and winged with feathers,
And the cord he made of deerskin.

Then he said to Hiawatha:
"Go, my son, into the forest,
Where the red deer herd together,
Kill for us a famous roebuck,
Kill for us a deer with antlers!"

Forth into the forest straightway
All alone walked Hiawatha
Proudly, with his bow and arrows;
And the birds sang round him, o'er him
"Do not shoot us, Hiawatha!"
Sang the robin, sang the bluebird,
"Do not shoot us, Hiawatha!"

And the rabbit from his pathway
Leaped aside, and at a distance
Sat erect upon his haunches,
Half in fear and half in frolic,
Saying to the little hunter,
"Do not shoot me, Hiawatha!"

But he heeded not, nor heard them,
For his thoughts were with the red deer;
On their tracks his eyes were fastened,
Leading downward to the river,
To the ford across the river,
And as one in slumber walked he.

Hidden in the alder bushes,
There he waited till the deer came,
Till he saw two antlers lifted,
Saw two eyes look from the thicket,
Saw two nostrils point to windward,
And a deer came down the pathway,
Flecked with leafy light and shadow.
And his heart within him fluttered
Trembled like the leaves above him,
Like the birch-leaf palpitated,
As the deer came down the pathway.

Then, upon one knee uprising,
Hiawatha aimed an arrow;
Scarce a twig moved with his motion,
Scarce a leaf was stirred or rustled,
But the wary roebuck darted,
Stamped with all his hoofs together,
Listened with one foot uplifted,
Leaped as if to meet the arrow;
Ah! the singing, fatal arrow,
Like a wasp it buzzed, and stung him.

Dead he lay there in the forest,
By the ford across the river;
Beat his timid heart no longer;
But the heart of Hiawatha
Throbbed and shouted and exulted,
As he bore the red deer homeward.
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For a long time, I thought that the poem in Disney's Silly Symphony short, Little Hiawatha, was pretty much directly quoting from the Longfellow original. And if not directly quoting, then at least just embellishing, like they did with Casey at the Bat. When I went looking for the poem, though, I found that it was ENORMOUS, and went on FOREVER, and yet there was no part of it which told a story even remotely like the one I remembered, except for the line, "Do not shoot us Hiawatha."

What I've posted here is a distillation of the childhood section to show the bits which I figure must have been the inspiration for the short. Here's a link to the short itself for your ten minutes of viewing pleasure. And below, I have slaved away to provide you with a transcript, which I believe to be the only one available on the web (though it's probably copyrighted material, I think that putting it here for scholarly comparison should be considered "fair use" right?)

Down the stream and through the canyon
Down the rushing Paw-paw-mee-naw
Sailing through its bends and windings
Sailing through its deeps and shadows
Came the little Hiawatha
Came in his canoe of birch bark
Came in his canoe Ma-chi-maw
To the falls of Minehaha
And the birds sang round him, o'er him
Sang the bluebird, sang the robin
"Do not shoot us Hiawatha"

Down the rapids in the river
Down the stream went Hiawatha.
Though a whirlpool in the water
Whirled the birch canoe in circles
Round and Round in gurgling eddies
Still the little Hiawatha
Bravely paddled on undaunted.

For he'd come to hunt the red deer
Hunt the rabbit the wa-baw-so
Hunt the swuirrel the Awg-guamo
Hunt the great bear mi-shi-mo-qua
Fearless was this mighty warrior
Skilled in all the craft of hunters
Sure of foot was Hiawatha

(break for instrumental pantomime of him hunting, failing, cornering a rabbit, pitying it too much to shoot, tracking a baby bear, being chased by the mother bear, escaping with the help of the animals, etc)

So it was that Hiawatha
Came to end his day of hunting
And the beaver called him brother
Helped him as he journeyed homeward
While the rabbit and the red squirrel
And the little deer that watched him
Watched him as a friend departing
Mighty hunter Hiawatha
Mighty warrior Hiawatha
Mighty chieftain Hiawatha
Mighty little Hiawatha
I can't find the link now, but I read a humorous piece of literary criticism where the author, in perfect meter, described how he could write verse in this style for days on end without breaking a sweat. I thought it might have been Mark Twain, so I searched for his name and Hiawatha, and though it wasn't the piece I was looking for, found a cute little story he wrote on the subject, which I'll encourage you to read as I sign off. Mark Twain's Hiawatha Memory

Special addition! After initially posting this blog entry, I found, in the Wikipedia article on The Song of Hiawatha, that it was Lewis Carroll that I was looking for. Go to that article for the quote, and some other fun parodies.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Preface from Milton: a Poem by William Blake

Preface from Milton: a Poem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant Land.
--William Blake

This poem by William Blake has been set to music, and is quite popular in England, almost gaining status as a second National Anthem. Though the song, sung on the Last Night of the Proms and many other occasions, is called Jerusalem, it's inaccurate to say that this poem is Jerusalem by William Blake. Evidently, he wrote another poem which he titled Jerusalem. It's an epic length poem with illustrations that he drew and printed himself (one of which is today's picture). The poem posted here is a piece of the preface to his long poem about Milton.

I can't think of anything to write today, except that we don't have to be in England to continue the fight to build up God's kingdom where we are. Maybe Mom, who is especially fond of this song, has something to add.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Destruction of Sennacherib by George Gordon Byron

The Destruction of Sennacherib

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on the Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpets unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
--George Gordon Byron

After my post yesterday extolling the virtues of metaphor and simile, I thought I'd provide the opposing view. My husband Peter thinks, frankly, that most poetry is a waste of time, and critical analysis of poetry (and probably analysis of most literature while we're on the subject) is a bunch of bunk that scholars make up in order to get paid and have people think they're smart. The following poem is one of the few that Peter has memorized.
Very Like a Whale

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and metaphor.
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of Assyrians.
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and thus hinder longevity.
We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a wolf on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy there are great many things.
But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof Woof?
Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say, at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets, from Homer to Tennyson;
They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,
And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket after a winter storm.
Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm,
And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.
--Ogden Nash

I've noticed that nearly all of the poems that he has memorized are subversive in one way or another -- I'll post more of those next week.

At any rate, I personally like the use of simile and metaphor, and I think that Byron's poem sets the scene for us very well. I like Nash's poem because it's so obviously (to me anyway) tongue in cheek. Of course people don't think that he meant they actually looked or acted like actual wolves or think it would be nice to sleep under a blanket of snow, but there are times when a given metaphor is used so often it becomes cliche, or a poet uses so much figurative language that it becomes hard to figure out what he's talking about in the first place.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Lighthouse by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Lighthouse

The rocky ledge runs far into the sea,
and on its outer point, some miles away,
the lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.

Even at this distance I can see the tides,
Upheaving, break unheard along its base,
A speechless wrath, that rises and subsides
in the white tip and tremor of the face.

And as the evening darkens, lo! how bright,
through the deep purple of the twilight air,
Beams forth the sudden radiance of its light,
with strange, unearthly splendor in the glare!

No one alone: from each projecting cape
And perilous reef along the ocean's verge,
Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
Holding its lantern o'er the restless surge.

Like the great giant Christopher it stands
Upon the brink of the tempestuous wave,
Wading far out among the rocks and sands,
The night o'er taken mariner to save.

And the great ships sail outward and return
Bending and bowing o'er the billowy swells,
And ever joyful, as they see it burn
They wave their silent welcome and farewells.

They come forth from the darkness, and their sails
Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,
And eager faces, as the light unveils
Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.

The mariner remembers when a child,
on his first voyage, he saw it fade and sink
And when returning from adventures wild,
He saw it rise again o'er ocean's brink.

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same,
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light!

It sees the ocean to its bosom clasp
The rocks and sea-sand with the kiss of peace:
It sees the wild winds lift it in their grasp,
And hold it up, and shake it like a fleece.

The startled waves leap over it; the storm
Smites it with all the scourges of the rain,
And steadily against its solid form
press the great shoulders of the hurricane.

The sea-bird wheeling round it, with the din
of wings and winds and solitary cries,
Blinded and maddened by the light within,
Dashes himself against the glare, and dies.

A new Prometheus, chained upon the rock,
Still grasping in his hand the fire of love,
it does not hear the cry, nor heed the shock,
but hails the mariner with words of love.

"Sail on!" it says: "sail on, ye stately ships!
And with your floating bridge the ocean span;
Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse.
Be yours to bring man neared unto man.

--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I don't remember where I found this poem. I think that I probably heard the last two stanzas quoted somewhere, and was pleasantly surprised to find the rest of the poem. I know it's long, and I thought about editing it down, and linking to the rest, but I couldn't feel good about any of the cuts I was about to make. I have marked my very favorite stanzas in bold, though.

This poem is a good example of something they talk about all the time in poetry classes, but I haven't talked about much: simile and metaphor. We find both used several times in this poem. I'll choose two obvious examples.

First, we have the line, "Like the great giant Christopher it stands." This is simile. Notice the word "like" signalling that we're about to have an explicit comparison: this thing is like that thing. In this case, the lighthouse is like St Christopher, the patron Saint of travellers. He was reportedly a giant of a man, named Reprobius (which simply means sinner) who decided to convert to Christianity. On the advice of a Holy Man, he stationed himself at a particularly dangerous river crossing and would carry travelers across because he was so strong. One day he carried the Christ Child across, and so, changed his name to Christopher (which means Christ carrier). Knowing that, it's easy to see how a lighthouse would remind the poet of St Christopher, a giant who would reach out into the dangerous waters to bring travelers safely to shore.

Later, he compares the lighthouse to another giant. This time, the lighthouse is Prometheus. It's not "like" Prometheus, it "is" him. This kind of comparison is called metaphor. The readers know that the two things aren't the same thing, but it can bring a much more powerful image to the mind. Here we have Prometheus, one of the Titans of Greek Mythology, who stole fire from the gods to bring light and warmth to man, chained to a rock in eternal punishment for his crime. His immortal liver is painfully devoured every day by an eagle, and yet he is not angry at mankind. Instead, he holds up the flame he still has clenched in his hand and wishes the mariners a safe journey. I was reminded, reading this, of the lighthouse keepers, many of whom were almost literally chained to the rock their lighthouse was on -- they were stuck out on isolated rocky islands, hard to approach by boat in the best of weather, for months at a time, all so that somebody else could safely travel the world.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

She Walks In Beauty by George Gordon, Lord Byron

She Walks In Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
-- George Gordon, Lord Byron

Today's post, my 75th, is dedicated to Steve and Rachel's Diamond Jubilee! And if you don't know what I mean by that, ask Steve to send you some photos.

While many poets naturally end a sentence or phrase at the end of a line, Byron, in this poem, often doesn't -- giving us what scholars call enjambed lines. This is especially obvious in the first two lines which don't make any sense if you don't keep on reading through. This allows the poet a few advantages: First, he can emphasize a word that doesn't fall at the end of the thought without turning his sentence around inside out and backwards. Second, he can also achieve more natural sounding sentences by varying their length throughout the poem instead of always having to stick with the length of the line. Third, he's able to use the power that rhythm has to get words to stick in the mind without being locked into the sing-song feeling that many poems with strict rhythm take on (he also varies the rhythm in the 4h line by other means).

I believe that it's this freedom and natural sound that attract many poets to free verse. Still, as I said in the comments a few days ago, I think that they often lose something when they don't have any structure at all. It's hard to describe what it is. Perhaps it's that sense of surprise at their cleverness for fitting just the right word into the available space -- the same sort of pleasure you can get from a well played Scrabble move. Maybe it's just that my brain seems to respond especially well to rhythm and rhyme. I found out long ago that I can memorize certain things without even trying -- and that if it's set to music (which often entails rhythm and rhyme, it takes far fewer repetitions). Whatever the case, I like this poem, and others like it, for the way they skillfully walk the fine line between natural language and poetic structure.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Crocodile by Lewis Carroll

The Crocodile

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin!
How neatly spread his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!
--Lewis Carroll

I was reminded of Lewis Carroll yesterday, so one of his poems stood out to me today when I was looking for a short poem to post. For those that might be interested, here is the poem he's doing a parody of.
Against Idleness and Mischief
from Divine Songs for Children

HOW doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labour or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.
--Isaac Watts

If you read many of Issac Watts's poems, you'll find that they're just the sort of moralizing tripe that they used to make children memorize and recite in school and church contests. I'm glad that they don't make kids waste their time memorizing poetry that doesn't have much literary merit anymore, but I do wish that more children were encouraged to memorize and recite GOOD stuff.

Reading the poem below really makes me appreciate the excellent job Lewis Carroll did in re-writing it. I'm somehow reminded of John Bytheway's parodies of Primary songs like "I have five little fingers on this little hand, there are six on the other, I don't understand. During all the long hours 'till daylight is through, I have one little finger with nothing to do"

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt

The Spider and the Fly

"Will you walk into my parlor?" said the spider to the fly;
"'Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you may spy.
The way into my parlor is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there."
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."

"I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high.
Well you rest upon my little bed?" said the spider to the fly.
"There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest a while, I'll snugly tuck you in!"
"Oh no, no," said the little fly, "for I've often heard it said,
They never, never wake again who sleep upon your bed!"

Said the cunning spider to the fly: "Dear friend, what can I do
To prove the warm affection I've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry good store of all that's nice;
I'm sure you're very welcome - will you please to take a slice?
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "kind sir, that cannot be:
I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!"

"Sweet creature!" said the spider, "you're witty and you're wise;
How handsome are your gauzy wings; how brilliant are your eyes!
I have a little looking-glass upon my parlor shelf;
If you'd step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself."
"I thank you, gentle sir," she said, "for what you're pleased to say,
And, bidding you good morning now, I'll call another day."

The spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready to dine upon the fly;
Then came out to his door again and merrily did sing:
"Come hither, hither, pretty fly, with pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple; there's a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!"

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer grew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes and green and purple hue,
Thinking only of her crested head. Poor, foolish thing! at last
Up jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast;
He dragged her up his winding stair, into the dismal den -
Within his little parlor - but she ne'er came out again!

And now, dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words I pray you ne'er give heed;
Unto an evil counselor close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale of the spider and the fly.
-- Mary Howitt

OK, so this poem has a sappy moral at the end of it -- as if we really needed to be told what the poem was about...sigh. It's just the sort of thing that Lewis Carroll would have liked to make fun of in one of the Alice books (have you read The Annotated Alice yet? If not, why not?).

I think my Singles Ward Bishop put it much more succinctly when, in a talk on morality, he said, "Don't go in the hot tub together. Don't spend the night at each other's houses. Don't stick your hand in the lawn mower when it's on!"

I think that the best part of the poem is the opening line. It really tells the whole story in one neat little memorable sentence. The spider is ever-so-politely asking the fly to do something that anyone in their right mind can see will never lead anywhere good.

P.S. While searching for today's picture, I stumbled across evidence tha Lewis Carroll did indeed use this poem as the basis for the Lobster Quadrille song.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Invictus by William Ernest Henley


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
--William Ernest Henley

As I was looking for poems quoted by President Faust, I found this one in a talk by President Hinckley. It has a determined plodding rhythm, as if he's climbing a mountain one slow step at a time. I've felt that way at times--like the world is pressing me down, and it's only my own will power that's keeping me going at all. In those times, thoughts like, "Life's lousy, and then you die" (expressed more elegantly in his third stanza) aren't scary at all. No matter how bad death and the afterlife may be, it certainly can't be worse than living like this.

Of course, a more accurate interpretation would be that it doesn't matter what circumstances life throws at us, we're the ones who get to decide how to react. The poet is saying, you can send him to Heaven or Hell, it won't matter. He can be happy or sad, defiant or conquered, without reference to anyone else. It's his choice.

Here's what President Hinckley had to say about it in his 2000 Christmas Devotional:
It is a great poem. It places upon the individual the responsibility for what he does with his life. Through these many years, when I have been faced with difficult choices I have repeated these stirring words.

But on the other hand, it may sound arrogant and conceited in terms of the Atonement. Orson F. Whitney, of the Quorum of the Twelve of many years ago, so regarded it and wrote a marvelous response using the same poetic meter and entitling his verse “The Soul’s Captain.”

Art thou in truth? Then what of Him
Who bought thee with His blood?
Who plunged into devouring seas
And snatched thee from the flood,

Who bore for all our fallen race
What none but Him could bear--
That God who died that man might live
And endless glory share.

Of what avail thy vaunted strength
Apart from His vast might?
Pray that His light may pierce the gloom
That thou mayest see aright.

Men are as bubbles on the wave,
As leaves upon the tree,
Thou, captain of thy soul! Forsooth,
Who gave that place to thee?

Free will is thine- free agency,
To wield for right or wrong;
But thou must answer unto Him
To whom all souls belong.

Bend to the dust that "head unbowed,"
Small part of life's great whole,
And see in Him and Him alone,
The captain of thy soul.

It seems to me that while this response misses the point of the original poem, that each individual gets to decide how to respond to the things he can't control in this life, it teaches a bigger truth. If you give up some measure of control over your decisions (by choosing to follow the commandments of the Lord rather than your own whims), then your new Captain, Christ, will steer your ship on a course that will lead to eternal happiness far greater than a defiant soul, as happy as it may choose to be, can imagine.

P.S. Bonus points to anyone who can find me the lyrics to Afterglow's "Captain of my Soul" for comparison. I know Mom used to have them on tape...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

For Joy by Florence Earle Coates

For Joy

For each and every joyful thing,
For twilight swallows on the wing,
For all that nest and all that sing,—

For fountains cool that laugh and leap,
For rivers running to the deep,
For happy, care-forgetting sleep,—

For stars that pierce the sombre dark,
For morn, awaking to the lark,
For life new-stirring ‘neath the bark,—

For sunshine and the blessed rain,
For budding grove and blossomy lane,
For the sweet silence of the plain,—

For beauty spring from the sod,
For every step by beauty trod,—
For each dear gift of joy, thank God!
--Florence Earle Coates

I found this poem, beautifully written out in illustrated calligraphy on a gift bag at the Dollar Store. I bought the bag, framed it, and hung it by my bed. I like to read this poem as I fall asleep or wake up. It reminds me of one of my favorite hymns, For the Beauty of the Earth.

This is also one of the poems that taste good in my mouth as I recite it. I don't know if it's clear what I mean when I say that. Let me try to explain. Some words are just nice to say. Take Mellifluous for example. It means a pleasant sound; it implies flowing sweetly off the tongue like honey. Say it and imagine it dripping out of your mouth, Mellifluous. Now try saying some of the alliterative lines in the poem like: Fountains cool that laugh and leap or For the sweet silence of the plain. It's more than just choosing words that sound the same, she has put just the right sounds around them for contrast -- like having just the right accent color in a mostly monochrome outfit. I especially like the combination of alliterative L's in the fountain line with R's in the next line about rivers.

Then there are the lines that just talk about the beautiful peaceful things I often long for when anxiety (a symptom of my depression) threatens to take over my life: For sunshine and the blessed rain or happy, care-forgetting sleep. I also like how two of the three lines in each stanza are obviously closely related, while the third, while not quite the same, takes on some of the character of the other two by association. Take the second stanza for instance, since I've focused on it so much already. The first two lines are about running water, and the third about sleep. In my mind at least, I imagine falling asleep to the calming sounds of water (a thunderstorm, a babbling brook, ocean waves, etc), and waking up cleansed with all my cares washed away.

So here's some homework to help you learn to appreciate and understand poetry better. Take a poem you like, it could be one I've posted or not, and decide what you like about it. Do you have a favorite line? If so, what's different or special about that line? The subject matter of the poem makes a difference, but think about whether you'd like it as much if it was written in prose (for this poem, would a simple list of things she liked be as powerful?). Think about it and reply.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Choruses from ‘The Rock’ by T. S. Eliot

Choruses from ‘The Rock’

The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.
-- T. S. Eliot

After writing yesterday's post on happiness, I listened to a podcast interview of Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches Harvard's Positive Psychology class. There are lots of news articles about it, and if you google it, you can also find his course outline, readings, etc. It's a class about the psychological studies that have been done on how people feel happy and fulfilled -- rather than Abnnormal Psychology which focuses on what makes people miserable and disturbed. One of the quotes from the interview that stood out to me was, "Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning." He says the if an experience is just meaningful, like having an important job, or a family, but you don't enjoy it for some reason, it won't lead to happiness. And it certainly won't if it's just pleasure without meaning, like casual sex or drugs. So the trick is to find things that mean something, that you also can enjoy, and try to get more of them in your life.

He also talks about how you can find ways to better enjoy the meaningful things you already have. Take music for instance, if you listen to your favorite song, then your second favorite song, and you're asked to rate them, they'd both be a 10. If you listen to them both at the same time, though, it won't be a 20, it'd be less than a 5 -- just noise. So if you're not enjoying your time with your family (very meaningful in most people's lives), check to see if you're really spending time with your family, or if you're spending it with them, and email, or housework, or TV or something else at the same time, which makes them both just kind of distracting.

He sounded like a very down to earth person, and I liked that he had scientific studies (or as good as you can get in psychology with people self reporting), that were published in the best journals, to back up his conclusions. It lifts him above the crowd of self-help gurus out there. (for some fascinating insights on self help, read, SHAM by Steve Salerno)

Here's what President Faust had to say on the topic: "Today we are barraged by multitudes of voices telling us how to live, how to gratify our passions, how to have it all. At our fingertips we have software, databases, television channels, interactive computer modems, satellite receivers, and communications networks that suffocate us with information. There are fewer places of refuge and serenity. Our young people are bombarded with evil and wickedness like no other generation. As I contemplate this prospect, I am reminded of the poet T. S. Eliot’s words: “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”" He goes on to talk about how we can focus on righteous voices to hear what we ought to be focusing our lives on.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The World is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth

The World is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
--William Wordsworth

In his talk, "What’s in It for Me?" President Faust said, "I have learned that selfishness has more to do with how we feel about our possessions than how much we have. The poet Wordsworth said, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” A poor man can be selfish and a rich man generous, but a person obsessed only with getting will have a hard time finding peace in this life."

I think that this goes right along with things I've heard recently about tithing (for instance, see my brother Doug's Blog). When it comes right down to it, happy people are those that figure out what it is that they really want, and then figure out how to actually go about getting whatever it is. A friend recently helped me see that though I haven't had what I really want for the past several years (a happy family with children), I have been making the decisions that would lead me there in the long term. I could have gotten married to any number of people over the years, but I knew deep down that it had to be the right guy if I wanted to be happy. Once I was married, I could have quit my job right away to start having kids, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if we didn't have insurance coverage before I got pregnant. Once Peter got hired full time, I felt strongly that we ought to follow the Prophet's council and get out of debt. I probably stayed too long at my job trying to take care of that, but when I finally did quit, the Lord blessed us with was to not only clear the debt, but save up for a down payment on a house even though I wasn't working full time. Once I quit, I could have gotten pregnant immediately, but I knew that if we wanted to be a happy family, I had to be healthy, so I took the time to get stabilized on medications, then safely get off them again. I'm now about halfway through my pregnancy, I have a house, an excellent doctor, a loving husband, and a part time job that lets me contribute significantly to the rent working a couple of hours a day on my own computer. I'm in a position to be useful to my grandparents, and therefore the whole family. I can honestly say I'm happy, and really, except for the times that I've been clinically depressed (and occasionally even then), I have been for years, doing the things that would lead me to where I really wanted to be the whole time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

One Crown That No One Seeks by Emily Dickinson

One Crown That No One Seeks

One crown that no one seeks
And yet the highest head
Its isolation coveted
Its stigma deified

While Pontius Pilate lives
In whatsoever hell
That coronation pierces him
He recollects it well.
--Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson's poems are very good at capturing a moment of time, a feeling, or an image. I think perhaps that it may have helped her live her life that way - one moment at a time. It's well known that she hardly ever left home, and probably had some kind of mental illness. For many with these problems, thinking about the past only brings reminders of painful moments, and there is no hope for the future. It can be pleasant to live in a perpetually floating moment.

President Faust used this poem in his April 1991 conference address, A Crown of Thorns, a Crown of Glory. "Perhaps this cruel act was a perverse attempt to mimic the placing of an emperor’s laurel upon His head. Thus, there was pressed down upon Him a crown of thorns. He accepted the pain as part of the great gift He had promised to make. How poignant this was, considering that thorns signified God’s displeasure as He cursed the ground for Adam’s sake that henceforth it would bring forth thorns. But by wearing the crown, Jesus transformed thorns into a symbol of His glory. As Emily Dickinson so aptly described it:"

I'll also mention here, another poem that President Faust quoted a line or two from. This was in his Feb 2003 First Presidency message in the Ensign, Strengthening the Inner Self. "We are comforted by the knowledge that those who strengthen their inner selves shall see the face of God. The Lord Himself said, “It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am” (D&C 93:1). Edna St. Vincent Millay reminds us,
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through."

Those lines are from the long poem Renascence, which is about a person who gets a glimpse of what it would be like to be omniscient like God is, and sees that the infinite knowledge of suffering and sin is too much for a mortal soul, and so dies, and then, after calling out to God, is reborn and washed clean by the rain. I found it to be a fascinating study of the atonement, and God's love for us. It is rather long and obscure, though, so I'll let you follow the link if you're interested, rather than posting it here.

So there are today's poems about love. I know they don't fit into my usual definition of the term, but when you're pulling from conference talks, you tend to get an over-emphasis on the religious for some reason. There'll be two more posts in the President Faust series, and then we'll be back to the normal routine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What is Tithing? by Anonymous

What is Tithing?

What is tithing?
I will tell you every time.
Ten cents from a dollar,
And a penny from a dime.

I like this poem. It's functional, it's memorable, it teaches not only tithing, but division by ten in general. It is also written entirely on a child's level. It's short, and talks about amounts of money that a child is likely to come in contact with. I wish I could have found out who wrote it. It was probably some faithful Primary teacher or someone on the Curriculum Committee who did a great service to the Lord and Humanity, but whose name will never be known.

President Faust says:
Tithing is a principle that is fundamental to the personal happiness and well-being of the Church members worldwide, both rich and poor. Tithing is a principle of sacrifice and a key to the opening of the windows of heaven. In Primary I memorized the tithing poem: But I did not understand it fully until it was taught by Grandfather and President Henry D. Moyle.

You can read more about the lessons he learned in the Oct 1998 Conference Report. The talk is called “Opening the Windows of Heaven.”

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hymn of the Vaudois Mountaineers in Times of Persecution by Felicia Hemans

Hymn of the Vaudois Mountaineers in Times of Persecution

For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!
Thou hast made thy children mighty,
By the touch of the mountain sod.
Thou hast fix'd our ark of refuge,
Where the spoiler's foot ne'er trod;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!

We are watchers of a beacon
Whose light must never die;
We are guardians of an altar
Midst the silence of the sky;
The rocks yield founts of courage,
Struck forth as by thy rod;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!

For the dark resounding caverns,
Where thy still, small voice is heard;
For the strong pines of the forest,
That by thy breath are stirr'd;
For the storms on whose free pinions
Thy spirit walks abroad;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!

The royal eagle darteth
On his quarry from the heights,
And the stag that knows no master,
Seeks there his wild delights;
But we, for thy communion,
Have sought the mountain sod,
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God !

The banner of the chieftain,
Far, far below us waves;
The war-horse of the spearman
Cannot reach our lofty caves:
Thy dark clouds wrap the threshold
Of freedom's last abode ;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God !

For the shadow of thy presence,
Round our camp of rock outspread;
For the stern defiles of battle,
Bearing record of our dead;
For the snows and for the torrents,
For the free heart's burial sod;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee.
Our God, our fathers' God!
--Felicia Hemans

The Vaudois Mountaineers (also known as the Waldensians or Waldenses) were members of a Christian sect started in the 12th century by Peter Waldo (or Valdo or Pierre de Vaux) that shared a lot of ideas with the later Protestant Reformation. They used vernacular scriptures, and to quote an internet source, "They rejected the authority of the pope, denied the existence of purgatory and the efficacy of prayers for the dead, criticized the veneration of saints and the adoration of the crucifix, and dispensed with certain of the seven sacraments. They also aroused alarm among secular authorities for refusing to swear oaths in court." They were branded heretics and heavily persecuted for these beliefs, and retreated into the mountains to be away from the inquisition.

President Faust tells us:
In 1850, Elder Lorenzo Snow of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ascended a very high mountain near LaTour to visit the Vaudois of the Piedmont. He and his two companions stood on a bold projecting rock, where he proclaimed that Joseph Smith had seen the Father and the Son and had restored the gospel in its fulness and completeness. He testified that the keys of the holy Apostleship had been restored. He further testified that there were indeed living Apostles and prophets upon the earth. Many believed his startling message and joined the Church. Moved by his experience with the Vaudois living in the Alpine mountain valleys, President Snow cited [these] stirring words

The hymn itself seems to have been written by an English lady poet sometime before 1835, and may not have ever been used by the mountaineers themselves. Another English poet interested in their case was John Milton, who (in 1655) on hearing that the Duke of Savoy had ordered them to be exterminated, wrote this poem:
On the Late Massacre in Piedmont

Avenge O Lord thy slaughter'd Saints, whose bones
Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold,
Ev'n them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our Fathers worship't Stocks and Stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
Who were thy Sheep and in their antient Fold
Slayn by the bloody Piemontese that roll'd
Mother with Infant down the Rocks. Their moans
The Vales redoubl'd to the Hills, and they
To Heav'n. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
O're all th' Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
A hunder'd-fold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian wo.
--John Milton

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Father, Where Shall I Work Today? by Meade McGuire

Father, Where Shall I Work Today?

Father, where shall I work today?
And my love flowed warm and free.
Then He pointed out a tiny spot
And said, “Tend that for me.”
I answered quickly, “Oh no; not that!
Why, no one would ever see,
No matter how well my work was done;
Not that little place for me.”
And the word He spoke, it was not stern;
He answered me tenderly:
“Ah, little one, search that heart of thine.
Art thou working for them or for me?
Nazareth was a little place,
And so was Galilee.”
--Meade McGuire

Here's another poem that President Faust used, this time in his talk, “I Believe I Can, I Knew I Could,” in the Oct 1992 General Conference. This talk is notable in that it's structured around the story of The Little Engine that Could. As for the poem, I think it's about as subtle as the storybook the talk is based on. At the same time, there are times when elegance and subtlety aren't necessarily the virtues you're going for. I've noticed that Conference talks are often quite blunt, which helps avoid misunderstandings I suppose.

To end on a positive note, Here's what President Faust had to say about The Little Engine that Could:
I first heard the wonderful story of The Little Engine That Could when I was about 10 years old. As a child, I was interested in the story because the train cars were filled with toy animals, toy clowns, jackknives, puzzles, and books as well as delicious things to eat. However, the engine that was pulling the train over the mountain broke down. The story relates that a big passenger engine came by and was asked to pull the cars over the mountain, but he wouldn’t condescend to pull the little train. Another engine came by, but he wouldn’t stoop to help the little train over the mountain because he was a freight engine. An old engine came by, but he would not help because, he said, “I am so tired. … I can not. I can not. I can not.”

Then a little blue engine came down the track, and she was asked to pull the cars over the mountain to the children on the other side. The little engine responded, “I’m not very big. … They use me only for switching in the yard. I have never been over the mountain.” But she was concerned about disappointing the children on the other side of the mountain if they didn’t get all of the goodies in the cars. So she said, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” And she hooked herself to the little train. “Puff, puff, chug, chug, went the Little Blue Engine. ‘I think I can—I think I can—I think I can—I think I can—I think I can—I think I can—I think I can.’ ” With this attitude, the little engine reached the top of the mountain and went down the other side, saying, “I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could.”

I hope we will not be like the big passenger engine, too proud to accept the assignments we are given. I pray that we will not be like the person in the well-known poem who said: (quote above poem here)

I also hope that we will not be like the freight engine, unwilling to go the “extra mile” in service. The Master taught us that “whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” Some of the most rewarding times of our lives are those “extra mile” hours given in service when the body says it wants to relax, but our better self emerges and says, “Here am I; send me.”

Or, like the old engine, do we say we are too tired—or too old? I remind you that President Hinckley is 92 and still going strong!

I hope we can all be like the “Little Engine That Could.” It wasn’t very big, had only been used for switching cars, and had never been over a mountain, but it was willing. That little engine hooked on to the stranded train, chugged up to the top of the mountain, and puffed down the mountain, saying, “I thought I could.” Each of us must climb mountains that we have never climbed before.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tam o' Shanter (excerpt) by Robert Burns

From Tam o' Shanter

But pleasures are like poppies spread:
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white—then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
--Robert Burns

In honor of President James E. Faust, who died yesterday, I though I would post a couple of the poems he referenced in his talks. This one comes from "Our Search for Happiness" which was printed as the First Presidency Message in the October 2000 Ensign and Liahona. Introducing the poem, he said, "Pleasure is often confused with happiness but is by no means synonymous with it. The poet Robert Burns wrote an excellent definition of pleasure in these lines." He goes on to say that though pleasure is fleeting, true happiness can last forever, and is therefore much more worth pursuing.

The poem is actually just an aside in a much longer poem called Tam o' Shanter. It's about a man who, despite the warnings of his wife, stays out too late drinking in the pub and flirting with the barmaid. He then has to ride home through the eerie countryside. He sees a horrifying vision of the devil and a bunch of witches having a lively dance in the village church, and just barely makes it over the bridge (witches can't cross running water) in time to save himself--though not his horse's tail, which the witches were able to seize and pull off.

The poem is notable for its liberal mixing of Scots and English dialects, and for coining a few phrases that entered common speech. The first is, of course, Tam o' Shanter, which has become the name of the kind of hat the man was wearing in the illustrations printed with the poem (it's the Scottish hat that looks like a poofy beret with a pom-pom on top). The other is Cutty Sark, which means short or cut-off shirt. Evidently, one of the witches was wearing such a garment, and it did not do the job of covering her very well. it was when Tam shouted his approval of this garment that the witches began to pursue him. The term is best known now as the name of a famous ship, and a brand of whiskey.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Sea by JRR Tolkien

The Sea

To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying,
The wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying.
West, west away, the round sun is falling.
Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling?
The voices of my people gone before me?
I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me;
For our days are ending and our years failing.
I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing.
Long are the waves on the Last Shore falling,
Sweet are the voices in the Lost Isle calling.
In Eressea, in Elvenhome, that no man can discover,
Where the leaves fall not: land of my people forever!
--JRR Tolkien

I've always thought that this was one of the saddest of Tolkien's poems. I never really figured out why the elves all had to leave. It seemed especially hard that Legolas would have to go now that he has such a good friend in Gimli, and a safe(ish) world to go explore together. I will admit that sailing away over an unknown horizon is a nice metaphor for death. You're not coming back, but you're not stopping cold either.
PS I found one of the bath illustrations I was looking for earlier this week and I've added it to the earlier post.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Love (Genevieve) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame.

Oft in my waking dreams do I
Live o'er again that happy hour,
When midway on the mount I lay,
Beside the ruined tower.

The moonshine, stealing o'er the scene
Had blended with the lights of eve:
And she was there, my hope, my joy,
My own dear Genevieve!.

She leant against the arméd man,
The statue of the arméd knight:
She stood and listened to my lay,
Amid the lingering light.

Few sorrows hath she of her own,
My hope ! my joy ! my Genevieve !
She loves me best, whene'er I sing
The songs that make her grieve.

I played a soft and doleful air,
I sang an old and moving story-
An old rude song, that suited well
That ruin wild and hoary.

She listened with a flitting blush,
With downcast eyes and modest grace:
For well she know, I could not choose
But gaze upon her face.

I told her of the Knight that wore
Upon his shield a burning brand:
And that for ten long years he wooed
The Lady of the Land.

I told her how he pined : and ah!
The deep, the low, the pleading tone
With which I sang another's love,
Interpreted my own.

She listened with a flitting blush,
With downcast eyes, and modest grace:
And she forgave me, that I gazed
Too fondly on her face!.

But when I told the cruel scorn
That crazed that bold and lovely Knight,
And that he crossed the mountain-woods,
Nor rested day nor night:

That sometimes from the savage den,
And sometimes from the darksome shade,
And sometimes starting up at once
In green and sunny glade,-

There came and looked him in the face
An angel beautiful and bright:
And that he knew it was a Fiend,
This miserable Knight!.

And that unknowing what he did,
He leaped amid a murderous band,
And saved from outrage worse than death
The Lady of the Land!.

And how she wept, and clasped his knees:
And how she tended him in vain-
And ever strove to expiate
The scorn that crazed his brain ;-

And that she nursed him in a cave:
And how his madness went away,
When on the yellow forest-leaves
A dying man he lay ;-

His dying words -but when I reached
That tenderest strain of all the ditty,
My faultering voice and pausing harp
Disturbed her soul with pity!.

All impulses of soul and sense
Had thrilled my guileless Genevieve:
The music and the doleful tale,
The rich and balmy eve:

And hopes, and fears that kindle hope,
An undistinguishable throng,
And gentle wishes long subdued,
Subdued and cherished long!.

She wept with pity and delight,
She blushed with love, and virgin-shame:
And like the murmur of a dream,
I heard her breathe my name.

Her bosom heaved -she stepped aside,
As conscious of my look she stepped-
The suddenly, with timorous eye
She fled to me and wept.

She half enclosed me with her arms,
She pressed me with a meek embrace:
And bending back her head, looked up,
And gazed upon my face.

'Twas partly love, and partly fear,
And partly 'twas a bashful art,
That I might rather feel, than see,
The swelling of her heart.

I calmed her fears, and she was calm,
And told her love with virgin pride:
And so I won my Genevieve,
My bright and beauteous Bride.
--Samuel Taylor Coleridge

As long as we're thinking about Arthurian Legends, I thought I'd include this poem. It isn't explicitly Arthurian--it's obviously set much later than that, but by his choice of the name Genevieve, and use of the story of a mad knight, he's definitely making reference to those legends.

Both Lancelot and Tristam go mad in Malory's Le Morte Darthur. Both were wooing their respective queens. Both were banished by their respective kings. Both ran around in the woods alternately doing prodigious deeds and being abused by the peasantry while out of their minds. Neither one, however, rescued his Lady while mad, and though they were both injured, neither one died at the end of the madness. Tristam was cured by seeing Isoud (whose little dog recognized the crazed Tristam and brought the Queen to him). Elaine (Galahad's mother) found Lancelot employed as a fool in a castle and arranged for him to be healed by the Holy Grail.

So again, it's not quite exactly referencing a specific story (though Malory is hardly the only source, both knights were commonly known to have survived the madness), but rather bringing the entire body of work to mind. We know that the Arthurian Legends are full of tragic, romantic tales of forbidden and unrequited love, and so we don't need to connect it to a specific story to understand how his tale could have aroused such tender feelings in the listener.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

There Was a Young Woman Named Bright by Anonymous

There Was a Young Woman Named Bright

There was a young woman named Bright
Whose speed was much faster than light.
She set out one day
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.

Yesterday's post was enormous, so today's will be short.

I like limericks. I especially like clever ones with a bit of a surprise. I appreciate the work of early practitioners of the craft like Lear, but in a very short time, his get old (especially since he had no problem repeating a rhyme within the poem -- come on, you only need to think of three different words!).

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Lady of Shalott

Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers " 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

Part II

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

Part III

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance--
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right--
The leaves upon her falling light--
Thro' the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken'd wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross'd themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."
--Alfred Lord Tennyson

I memorized large portions of this, thanks to Loreena McKennitt's lovely recording, though I never got it completely down. I especially like the stanzas that describe Lancelot -- his coal black curls flowing from underneath his helmet, the way his armor flashed and sparkled -- it's so romantic. I can understand why it has inspired so many other works of art, and was one of Anne's (of Green Gables)favorites.

When I was reciting parts of it once, at a dinner party at college with Doug, Lesli, Genivive and possibly some other people, Genevive mentioned that someone had once said that she had a "lovely face" and that she thought that it was an example of damning with faint praise. She interpreted the poem as showing how Lancelot rode through the world roughshod and even though this woman died for him, all he could say was, "She has a lovely face."

I interpret it differently. Lancelot did nothing to encourage the Lady, he literally had never set eyes on her before. When she was found dead in the river, everyone else was horrified and frightened, but he had some compassion for her, and saw her as a person rather than an apparition.

The story is a little different as Malory tells it in Le Mort d'Arthur. If you want to read it for yourself, this story is found in Book 18 chapters 9, 14, 19 and 20. Here, she is referred to as Elaine Le Blank, or the Maid of Astolat.

Lancelot shows up at her father's castle looking for lodging before a big tournament. By this time he's got to go to tournament in disguise, since nobody will let him fight otherwise. Elaine falls in love with him, and asks him to wear her favor at the tournament. He says no at first, but then figures since he never wears anybody's favors, that this will help with his disguise, so he says OK. A couple chapters later, when he's about to leave the castle and Elaine said, "My lord, Sir Launcelot, now I see ye will depart; now fair knight and courteous knight, have mercy upon me, and suffer me not to die for thy love."
Lancelot asked, "What do you want from me?"
She said that she wants to marry him.
Lancelot said something along the lines of, "Not a chance. If I didn't marry the other Elaine (the mother of his son Galahad who had drugged and tricked him into lying with her), and I can't marry Gwenevere, then I'm certainly not going to marry anyone else."
He won't consent to be her lover either, since he says that would be dishonorable, and he's not going to repay the kindness of her father and brother that way.
"Alas," said she, "then must I die for your love."
"You'll do no such thing" said Lancelot. "Look, I like you, find some other knight who actually wants to marry you, and I'll give you a thousand pounds a year to live on, and I'll come be your champion anytime you need one."
Then the Lady fell down in a swoon. Lancelot left her in the care of her family, and told her father, "I'm sorry about your daughter, but I was never the causer of it. I dare do all that a knight should do that she is a clean maiden for me, both for deed and for will. And I am right heavy of her distress, for she is a full fair maiden,good and gentle, and well taught."
After he left, she starved herself to death, despite her family's pleadings to get over it. As she was dying, they promised to put her in a boat with a letter in her hand, to cover the whole thing with black samite, and row her body down to Camelot.
When the body got there, it caused quite a scandal, but Lancelot told his story, and her brother backed him up, and after Lanceloth ahd payed for the funeral, everybody forgave him and said, "Well, you can't force love."

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Just as the Sun by Jesse E Stay

Just as the Sun

Just as the sun
Which blesses us
During the day
With light and warmth--

And in the evening
Drops below the horizon
Leaving us
In the chill dark of night--

Is not extinguished!

But shines still
On distant shores
Blessing with its radiance
Other Souls
Beyond our view

So this dear one
Who warmed our hearts
And lighted our lives
Through the day--

Now gone
Beyond the limited horizon
Of our mortal view.

Leaving us
In dark sorrow
And chill loneliness--

Is not dead!

But sheds warmth and light
On dear souls gone before
--Jesse E. Stay

This is a poem I found among Grandpa's writings. I think it's a beautiful sentiment, and wonderful statement of his faith. I also like how he kept the metaphor simple, and didn't try to overextend it as people writing religious metaphors so often do.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Bath-Song by JRR Tolkien


Sing hey! For the bath at close of day
that washes the weary mud away
A loon is he that will not sing
O! Water Hot is a noble thing!

O! Sweet is the sound of falling rain,
and the brook that leaps from hill to plain;
but better then rain or rippling streams
is Water Hot that smokes and steams.

O! Water cold we may pour at need
down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed
but better is beer if drink we lack,
and Water Hot poured down the back.

O! Water is fair that leaps on high
in a fountain white beneath the sky;
but never did fountain sound so sweet
as splashing Hot Water with my feet!
--JRR Tolkien

Sorry the picture on this is so generic. I'm pretty sure there's a great painting of this scene by a professional artist like the Brothers Hildebrandt or Alan Lee, but I realized fairly soon that I didn't want to sort through hundreds of pictures with bath in the title.

OK, this poem got picked today for a couple of reasons. First, I haven't posted a from a novel in a while. Second, I just like this poem. It makes me laugh -- especially as I imagine Pippin getting so excited about his song that, "It appeared that a lot of Pippin's bath water had imitated a fountain and leaped on high." Third, I love a hot bath, especially in a tub that's big enough to contain me, which is rare. Whenever I imagine what it would be like to do as so many fantay heroines do, and magically get transported to one of these fantasy worlds to somehow defeat the evil sorcerer and free the country, I think, "Yeah, that would be fun, but the first thing I'd do once all the shouting died down, is instiute some kind of indoor plumbing with hot showers." Seriously. I do.

My final reason for posting this poem is complicated. I often dream, sometimes several dreams in a night. They seldom make much sense, though they seem logical in that dream sort of way. When I'm under a lot of stress, I have nightmares which often end in me yelling out loud (once I can make sound come), whereupon Peter wakes me up, and everything's OK. Well one night last week, Peter had to wake me up twice in one night. The first time, Everything was going fine in the dream, and then suddenly the floor dropped out from under me, I fell into some water and was drowning. The second time, I was walking along, and suddenly heard a noise behind me and turned around to find a giant kangaroo monster with a tiny head and long long arms. The weirdest part, though was that neither dream was a nightmare type dream. They were fine until the second or two before I yelled and woke up. Anyway, somebody was trying to interpret the dreams for me, and asked me what I associate with water. All I could come up with were good things like fun times with family at the beach or pool or water skiing, and nice hot showers. Of course, drowning had entirely different associations, few of which had anything to do with water, which was more to the point. Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about water ever since, and that's why this poem in particular jumped out at me.

Added 8-10-07:

I stumbled on this picture while looking for a picture for The Sea (posted today). It's not the one I remember, but it is better than the generic one I posted earlier.