Category: Each Day, a Poem


“A weary lot is thine, fair maid,
A weary lot is thine!
To pull the thorn thy brow to braid,
And press the rue for wine.
A lightsome eye, a soldier’s mien,
A feather of the blue,
A doublet of the Lincoln green–
No more of me you knew,
My love!
No more of me you knew.

“The morn is merry June, I trow,
The rose is budding fain;
But she shall bloom in winter snow
Ere we two meet again.”
He turn’d his charger as he spake
Upon the river shore,
He gave the bridle-reins a shake,
Said, “Adieu for evermore,
My love!
And adieu for evermore.”

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A linnet in a gilded cage, –
A linnet on a bough, –
In frosty winter one might doubt
Which bird is luckier now.
But let the trees burst out in leaf,
And nests be on the bough,
Which linnet is the luckier bird,
Oh who could doubt it now?

Children of the Heavenly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given

God His own doth tend and nourish
In His holy courts they flourish
From all evil things He spares them
In His mighty arms He bears them

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever
Unto them His grace He showeth
And their sorrows all He knoweth

Though He giveth or He taketh
God His children ne’er forsaketh
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy

Lo their very hairs He numbers
And no daily care encumbers
Them that share His ev’ry blessing
And His help in woes distressing

Praise the Lord in joyful numbers
Your Protector never slumbers
At the will of your Defender
Ev’ry foe man must surrender.

I love Plumb’s version of this hymn:.

If—

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowances for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

-Rudyard Kipling

September rainings are not exactly what I’d call cheery. Nor do they seem to promote cheeriness in those venturing out into the wetness.
Yet for all the gloomy greys and despondent dampness, this rainy morning does have potential to be joyful. Maybe I am attracted to Dickinson’s poem because it seems to be the converse of what I am experiencing today.
Why do we often associate rain with tears rather than bubbling laughter?

A DROP fell on the apple tree
Another on the roof;
A half a dozen kissed the eaves,
And made the gables laugh.

A few went out to help the brook,
That went to help the sea.
Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,
What necklaces could be!

The dust replaced in hoisted roads,
The birds jocoser sung;
The sunshine threw his hat away,
The orchards spangles hung.

The breezes brought dejected lutes,
And bathed them in the glee;
The East put out a single flag,
And signed the fête away.

-Emily Dickinson

Eyes aloft, over dangerous places,
The children follow the butterflies,
And, in the sweat of their upturned faces,
Slash with a net at the empty skies.

So it goes they fall amid brambles,
And sting their toes on the nettle-tops,
Till, after a thousand scratches and scrambles,
They wipe their brows and the hunting stops.

Then to quiet them comes their father
And stills the riot of pain and grief,
Saying, “Little ones, go and gather
Out of my garden a cabbage-leaf.

“You will find on it whorls and clots of
Dull grey eggs that, properly fed,
Turn, by way of the worm, to lots of
Glorious butterflies raised from the dead.” . . .

“Heaven is beautiful, Earth is ugly,”
The three-dimensioned preacher saith;
So we must not look where the snail and
the slug lie
For Psyche’s birth. . . . And that is our death!

– Rudyard Kipling

Over dangerous places… I feel I’m there; I’m chasing butterflies, aerial phantoms of the wind. I need the Father to come quiet me, to still the riot that my ever-chasing, wandering heart is facing.
Psalm 46

Friendship: Arrow or Song?

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;

And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

At first glance, an arrow and a song seem completely separated, and having little or nothing in common except the speed with which they both disappear. Yet by the third stanza, the relation between the two is cemented as both objects (that formerly had taken one stanza each) are discussed and compared, fused, in one stanza.
Just as an arrow is capable of wounding, destroying, so a song is capable of healing. And just as a friend is capable of restoring a song (providing healing, joy, understanding), so is a friend capable of causing spiritual hurt like the physical harm an arrow can inflict. Like an arrow must be deliberately released to hit its target, so must the wounds that hurt us most from friends be deliberate and intentional.
When one shoots an arrow, or shares a song, he doesn’t know exactly how that arrow or song will be received; when one offers the gift of friendship, he does not know how his offer will be received. In one sense, he is leaving himself vulnerable – as though he has shot his only arrow of defense and is now left open to whatever may be shot his way, or has bravely allowed another to listen to his most personal emotions and in doing so, made explicit what may be scorned or rejected.
The specific adjective ” still unbroke” in the third stanza seems to strongly imply that the speaker expected his arrow to be broken, and one could say, also did not expect to find his song “in the heart of a friend.”
Friendship and joy is risky business: we are often broken, and our songs are rarely recovered. Yet, with great risk comes great value. Therefore, once found, true friendship is worth all the risk. Two people are able to know and care for each other well enough to think and feel with one heart, to finish each others’ songs, inspire each others’ songs, and most difficult of all, preserve each others’ songs “from beginning to end.” That is most difficult because it requires unselfish giving, the willingness of one individual to keep the heart of their friend, the “song” or soul of that person’s very existence, without losing even one line.
I cannot help but connect the idea of friendship, songs, and arrows with the biblical characters David and Jonathan. Jonathan risked his very life to preserve David (the writer and singer of the Psalms, a master musician) from his own father’s jealous hatred, by shooting an arrow in warning to the hiding David. In a few years, after David had been on the run from Saul’s attempts to kill him, he happened across a sleeping Saul one night, but instead of killing him, David demonstrated respect for his God and his friend by simply taking the spear and water jug next to Saul. David and Jonathan both did their best to preserve the life and heart of each other. And in spite of the worst circumstances, separation, and incredible stress, they managed to turn something terrible into a joy-giving, life-preserving friendship.

Conversation Among the Ruins

Through portico of my elegant house you stalk
With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit
And the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net
Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back.
Now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak
Above the appalling ruin; in bleak light
Of your stormy eye, magic takes flight
Like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break.

Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock;
While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit
Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot,
Rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic:
Which such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate,
What ceremony of words can patch the havoc?

-Sylvia Plath

1.
They say that Hope is happiness–
But genuine Love must prize the past;
And Mem’ry wakes the thoughts that bless;
They rose the first — they set the last.
2.
And all that mem’ry loves the most
Was once our only hope to be:
And all that hope adored and lost
Hath melted into memory.
3.
Alas! it is delusion all —
The future cheats us from afar:
Nor can we be what we recall,
Nor dare we think on what we are.

I have made bold the sections of this poem that I most enjoy. Reading this is like indulging in eating a slice of lusciously rich cheesecake. The word pictures he paints by using only words are astounding: he gives tangible reality to intangible thoughts such as what one imagines during fleeting daydreams (“So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me/ With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear/ Most like articulate sounds of things to come!”), the sound of what is seen (” shall hang them up in silent icicles,/ Quietly shining to the quiet moon; Sea, hill, and wood,/ With all the numberless goings on of life,/ Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame/ Lies on my low burnt fire”), and the methodical yet completely whimsical ways our minds work (“But O! how oft./ How oft, at school…”); yet he also uses words to make gloriously intangible what is often tangibly commonplace – lakes and rocky shores become “lovely shapes and sounds intelligible,” while “summer clothe the general earth/ With greenness,” and “eave-drops fall/ Heard only in the trances of the blast/ Or if the secret ministry of frost/ Shall hang them up in silent icicles…”

The frost performs it secret ministry
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud–and hard, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
The calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness.
Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, ever where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself.
And makes a toy of Thought.

But O! how oft.
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day.
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me,
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things I dreamt
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!

Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the interspersed vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!

My babe so beautiful! it thrills my hears
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet moon.