A Poem for a Thursday #83

Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of my favorite poets. I have loved her poems from long before I started this poetry series. She has been featured at least three times before (here, here, and here) and I am sure I will feature her again in the future.

Ah, could I lay me down in this long grass
And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind
Blow over me--I am so tired, so tired
Of passing pleasant places! All my life,
Following Care along the dusty road,
Have I looked back at loveliness and sighed;
Yet at my hand an unrelenting hand
Tugged ever, and I passed. All my life long
Over my shoulder have I looked at peace;
And now I fain would lie in this long grass
And close my eyes.
                          Yet onward!
                                     Cat birds call
Through the long afternoon, and creeks at dusk
Are guttural. Whip-poor-wills wake and cry,
Drawing the twilight close about their throats.
Only my heart makes answer. Eager vines
Go up the rocks and wait; flushed apple-trees
Pause in their dance and break the ring for me;
Dim, shady wood-roads, redolent of fern
And bayberry, that through sweet bevies thread
Of round-faced roses, pink and petulant,
Look back and beckon ere they disappear.
Only my heart, only my heart responds.
Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,--sharp underfoot
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs--
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine:  blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road
A gateless garden, and an open path:
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold. 

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Ups and Downs

It is a strange life I am living these days. I am with people all the time but I never see anyone. I have all the time in the world and no time at all. I want life to go back to normal and I dread the return to a frantically busy reality. I love my family and love the time with them and I occasionally dream of running far away from them. I read all the news and scare myself with what is going on in the world and I, at the same time, feel like I am living in my own little bubble. I am content and I am bored. I am happy and I am anxious.

It is a life of ups and downs.

I have little to complain about. No one in my family and no one I know has gotten sick. We can pay our bills. Our lives are inconvenienced but not difficult. However, as is the case with many, we want the things we can't have. I want to putter through a bookshop, walk by the ocean, go out to dinner with my husband, and search for treasures in a consignment shop. I want to go on vacation, but then, I always want to go on vacation.

For now we have to be happy with the little things; the ups in our day-to-day lives. We have been for a few hikes and spent the afternoon sitting by the stream in a state park. We went kayaking on a friend's pond and were even able to wave hello to our friends as we arrived. We have gardened and finished a few projects around the house and planned a few more projects.

Things could be worse and they are for many people around the world. For now, I shall be content with my life of little ups and downs. As my husband frequently reminds me, excitement is not always a good thing and a nice, long stretch of boredom can be quite refreshing.

A Poem for a Thursday #82

Photo by Andrea Zignin on Unsplash

Shel Silverstein was an award-winning children's writer and cartoonist. His books The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends are viewed as classics of children's literature. His poems are described as "darkly humorous and irreverent." I also found out, while looking up his life, that he was a songwriter and wrote "A Boy Named Sue" for Johnny Cash. Today's poem may have been originally written for children but I think we can all see the appeal.

Needles and pins,
Needles and pins,
Sew me a sail
To catch me the wind.

Sew me a sail
Strong as the gale,
Carpenter, bring out your
Hammers and nails.

Hammers and nails,
Hammers and nails,
Build me a boat
To go chasing the whales.

Chasing the whales,
Sailing the blue,
Find me a captain
And sign me a crew.

Captain and crew,
Captian and crew,
Take me, oh take me
to anywhere new.

Needles and Pins
Shel Silverstein

A Day Out//Mashamoquet Brook State Park

Yesterday was a beautiful day and we all were a little stir-crazy. We needed to get outside and pretend that life is normal. We packed up some snacks, water, and my book (never go anywhere without a book) and headed to Mashamoquet Brook State Park. I used to take my kids here when they were little so they could swim in the pond and play in the stream. It is still one of our favorite local hiking spots. Thankfully, it was not particularly busy. We only ran into a few people on the trails and only a few more wandered past as we sat by the stream. Well, we sat; Celia went wading. If it had been only a few degrees warmer I am sure she would have been completely soaked. What is it about water that makes teenagers forget they are teenagers? Whatever it is, I love it.

We saw crayfish and minnows and my husband saw a big turtle on the trail. We listened to the sound of the running water. We wandered and chatted and did nothing in particular. It was lovely. For a little while, we forgot the stressful world we live in. We forgot until we ran into some friends of ours and had to carefully stand six feet apart while chatting with them. It was still nice to see them. It has been ages since we have interacted with anyone in person and not just on Zoom.

I brought my book but never opened it. Maybe I will read next time we go when we plan to bring folding chairs, flasks of tea and coffee, and more snacks. We found a lovely little section of the park that few people visit where we can set up our chairs right by the stream and pretend we are on vacation. A little imagination goes a long way.

A walk in the woods and running water can mitigate almost all of life's ills. We are fortunate to have uncrowded parks right near our house. They provide a bit of peace in a stressful world.

A Poem for a Thursday #81

Photo by DAVIDCOHEN on Unsplash
May Sarton was an American poet, novelist, and memoirist. Her work is described as "inspirational, touching, honest, and thought-provoking." At the time of her death, Sarton had written 53 books.

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before--"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word 
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poems, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

Now I Become Myself
May Sarton

A Poem for a Thursday #80

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Billy Collins writes such readable, relatable poetry. I spent a happy hour or so trying to choose which one to feature today. I finally picked this because it is about books and reading and what could be more appropriate?

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
I f I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive-
'Nonsense.' 'Please!' 'HA!'-
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote 'Don't be a ninny'
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints 
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls 'Metaphor' next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of 'Irony'
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
'Absolutely,' they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
'Yes.' 'Bull's-eye.' ' My man!' 
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written 'Man vs. Nature' 
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
'Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.'

Billy Collins

Book Review//My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes

Are you ever afraid to read a book because you love everything you have read by that author and what if this is the one to break the streak? What if it is just...all right? I know it is silly. After all, you will still love the other books, but somehow that is how I felt about My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes. She is a relatively recent discovery for me and the fact that there are not very many of her books in print has made the ones I have read feel even more special. One Fine Day is beautifully written and London War Notes fits exactly into my interest in WWII social history. Her short stories are also a joy. When The British Library sent me a copy of My Husband Simon I set it aside for a bit just in case the anticipation was better than the fact. Last weekend I finally read it.

In My Husband Simon Nevis Falconer (what a name!) tells the story of her short marriage to Simon Quinn. Nevis and Simon are very different but they fall in love almost instantly, mostly based on wild physical attraction. Nevis is a writer and bases her opinion of people on intellectual criteria.

Simon, I discovered almost at once, was the most baffling person to deal with, because he had any amount of intuition and no intelligence, as I understood the word. But Simon argued once that I understood the word all wrong. He said that I damned anyone as unintelligent who (a) had not seen the latest play and read the latest novel; (b) did not know who Virginia Woolf was; (c) could not look at a dress and say, "My dear, is it Molyneux?" Well, Simon certainly failed in (a), (b), and (c). He never read books; he didn't give a damn who Virginia Woolf was; he thought a dress either a bad dress or a good dress; and that was that.

 Nevis and Simon settle into married life and are alternately wildly happy and wildly argumentative. Nevis does not like Simon's family, especially his mother who expects her to produce children and make a happy home. Nevis needs to write and is intensely frustrated because since she married it has become harder and harder for her to do so. She is not happy with her latest book even though it is admired and feels she can do better. But how, with no peace and no time to herself? A publisher from the U.S. arranges a meeting with Nevis. They become friends and he tells her what no one else has; that her writing is not as good as it was.

I felt the queerest mixture of anger and misery and relief. It was the kind of feeling you might have if you said to a doctor: "Tell me the worst," and he answered: "Six months to live." It was as though, after a lot of evasive probing round a mortal wound, one swift thrust had laid it bare. A wrench of supreme pain and then a queer sort of peace. Now I know the worst. Now nothing can hurt me any more.It was what I had been wanting all the time, subconsciously. Someone with guts enough to say "You're a flop, and you know it." Not Simon coming back from the office with his tales of awful nice chaps who had thought Vulcan's Harvest damn good. I didn't want a comforting salve of lies and good-nature. I wanted a hard, surgical slash-slash; an incisive cutting agony that would either cure or kill. Only that morning I had been sobbing angrily under the Flemish flower picture for want of someone like Marcus Chard. 

Marcus Chard and his presence in Nevis' life becomes more and more of a catalyst for change in her relationship with Simon. I started the book thinking it was going to be the story of a marriage gone wrong and the man who broke it up (which is not my favorite kind of book which is possibly another reason I hesitated to read it.) It is the story of a marriage gone wrong but it is also the story of two people who love each other deeply and don't want their marriage to fail.  They are two flawed people but neither is presented as the villain. They are just people who make mistakes and love each other and break each other's hearts. I must admit, I did frequently want to shake both of them and bang their heads together until they came to their senses and worked out their relatively minor problems. The beauty of Panter-Downes' writing is that she makes you believe in all the fraught emotions while you are reading them.

Mollie Panter-Downes writes with the seemingly effortless grace that I have love in her other books. Her writing has a hint of nostalgic melancholy, for lack of a better phrase, that I particularly enjoy.

It poured with rain. The Michaelmas daisies in Frank's garden stood in sodden stacks, their watery mauve plumes bowed down to the earth with moisure; the plummy red of the brick wall against the fruit-trees were nailed with fluttering bits of rag, the dead gold of the dripping woods were blurred and softened by a veil of rain. The earth was sweet and rotten with decay. In the evening a white vapour rose from the ground; in it the familiar shapes of trees disappeared, the lawn became a steaming lake; slow wisps of mist curled menacingly round the house. And as though by magic, fires appeared and lamps glowed in the rooms. We sat secure in a little citadel of summer while autumn prowled outside, shaking the window-panes with gusts of irritable fury. 

I enjoyed this and would reread it at some point which is my totally arbitrary way of judging a book. I don't think it is as good as her later writings but then, of course it isn't. There are over a dozen years between the publication of My Husband Simon and One Fine Day. She had a lot of time to grow and develop her talent.

My thanks to The British Library for the review copy. I reviewed a previous book in this series, The Tree of Heaven, here.