And Then I Hated Glory

Harper’s Weekly March 1862


Who doesn’t now read the papers
More than ever he read before;
Eagerly watching the symptoms
Of our great political sore?

Some only to croak and grumble,
To sleep and loaf and chew,
Doing nothing to ease the smarting;
I wouldn’t do that — would you?

Harper’s Weekly’s.  23 August 1862

The Finished Faces

by Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

My Triumph lasted till the Drums
Had left the Dead alone
And then I dropped my Victory
And chastened stole along
To where the finished Faces
Conclusion turned on me
And then I hated Glory
And wished myself were They.

What is to be is best descried
When it has also been —
Could Prospect taste of Retrospect
The tyrannies of Men
Were Tenderer — diviner
The Transitive toward.
A Bayonet’s contrition
Is nothing to the Dead. 

It is not that poetry was not part of the Civil War experience.  Poetry was widely published in weekly journals that were relied upon by millions for their news, but the poetry of this period feels stiff and formal in most instances to our ears today.  Although we can look back at Emily Dickinson’s verse written during this period and hear something fresher, remember her words are out of place for those living in that period, as her poetry was not widely published until the mid 20th Century.  Walt Whitman, who was deeply impacted emotionally by the war, was the one poet pushing the boundaries of how poetry could be both a shared confession and healing counsel during the war, while not confining himself to the conventions of rhyme and meter that served no purpose.  

The poetry during the Civil War that was widely distributed on both sides, tried to lend some air of dignity to the carnage, tried to give the impossible losses some measure of honor, tried to inspire and console.  Of course those words now feel inadequate mostly because they fail to convey the scope of the horror. The Civil War is a long drawn out story of loss; loss of life, loss of family, loss of home, loss of dignity, loss of capitol, loss of country, loss of ideals, loss of civility, loss of freedom.  That we try even now to write about it in terms that paint the opposite, is why in part very little of the literature of the day feels relevant. 

Many of the best poets of this period felt the conflict was beyond their ability to put in words.  Keat’s is quoted as saying; “A fact is not a truth until you love it.” And if history is a series of “facts”, it is impossible in my opinion to love the Civil War.  So how then does anyone write the history of that period or write the poetry of that period? Rhyming poetry by its nature generally can come across as sentimental, and sentiments of war are so visceral that poets not part of that experience generally fail to strike the proper notes in rhyme.

I can respect the sacrifice of the Civil War,  I am grateful for the outcome, as the alternative is too horrible to contemplate, but I don’t have to love the culture of war and the culture of violence and guns that our founding fathers have passed down to us generation after generation, war after war.  Memorial Day began as a Civil War holiday.  Veteran’s day began as memorial to the end of World War I, the “war to end all wars.”  But neither have remain tethered to their original purpose, as time marches on and there is always another war in our past and in our future that requires respect of the sacrifices made and inclusion in the bank holidays our managers bequeath.  But it begs the question; for whom were those sacrifices made?  The cloak of patriotism that politicians hide behind to foster their own agendas on both sides of the isle keep the industrial war complex on full tilt has motives far from the patriots that die in those wars.  Just look at the infrastructure bill that was just passed, it includes plenty of money going to keep the coffers of new and better ways to wage war and make the men and women behind those schemes wealthy.  When are we going to invest our human capitol in innovating peace at the same or greater rate of interest than we pay so dearly for innovating war? 

The News of A Day

by Sarah T. Bolton (1814 – 1893)

She read the names of the missing and slain;
But one she read over and over again.
“Great battle! Great battle!” the news-boy cried,
But it scarcely rippled the living tide
That ebbed and flowed in the noisy street,
With its throbbing heart and busy feet,
Again through the hum of the city thrilled,
“Great battle! Great battle! Ten thousand killed!”
And the little carrier hurried away
With the sorrowful news of that summer day.

To a dreary room in an attic high
Trembled the words of that small, sharp cry;
And a lonely widow bowed her head,
And murmured, “Willie, my Willie, is dead.
O I feared it was not an idle dream
That led me last night to that dark, deep stream,
Where the ground was wet with a crimson rain,
And strewn all over with ghastly slain.
She read the names of the missing and slain;
But one she read over and over again;

And the sad, low words that her white lips said,
Were ‘Company C, William Warren dead.’
The world toiled on through the busy street,
With its aching heart and unresisting feet;
The night came down to her cold hearth-stone,
And still the words that her white lips said,
Were, ‘Company C, William Warren dead.’
The light of the morning chased the gloom
From the emberless hearth of that attic room,
And the city’s pulse throbbed again,
But the mother’s heart had forgotten its pain.
She had gone through the gates to the better land,
With that terrible list in her pale, cold hand,
With her white lips parted, as at last she said,
‘Company C, William Warren dead.’

Because No Wreath We Owe

Removing the Stonewall Jackson statue from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.

Stonewall Jackson

by Herman Melville

Mortally Wounded at Chancellorsville


The Man who fiercest charged in fight,
 Whose sword and prayer were long —
 Even him who stoutly stood for Wrong,
How can we praise? Yet coming days
 Shall not forget him with this song.

Dead is the Man whose Cause is dead,
 Vainly he died and set his seal —
 Earnest in error, as we feel;
True to the thing he deemed was due,
 True as John Brown or steel.

Relentlessly he routed us;
 But we relent, for he is low —
 Justly his fame we outlaw; so
We drop a tear on the bold Virginian’s bier,
  Because no wreath we owe.

It is November and with it, I am once again strangely drawn to the poetry of war.   At a time when our nation is straining with divisiveness, it is a good reminder that conflict is a decidedly American tendency.   I thought this November it might be interesting to revisit the poetry of the Civil War, to look back at the writers of the time and their perspectives.   

Though the Civil War lasted only 4 years, it killed more Americans than any other war in our history.   The United States Army suffered the greater losses, both in combat deaths and wounded, with a total of 646,000 men officially recorded as casualties.  The confederates tally was 483,000.  Neither accounting takes into account the total impact on families and civilians.   In 1861, at the start of the Civil War the United States population was less than one-tenth of what it is today, or roughly 31,000,000.   No one living at the time was left untouched.   In July of 1863, the Battle Of Gettysburg alone resulted in 7,000 dead and more than 51,000 casualties during 3 bloody days of fighting.  It is hard for us to imagine that level of violence and loss in just three days.

To start out the month I have chosen a writer known for his iconic novel, Moby Dick, not his poetry, but Herman Melville was a skilled poet.  His poem above both commits the error of honoring in a back handed way the Confederate General for whom Charlotte and Richmond later erected statues.  The poem also accurately predicts that such fame will be (eventually) outlawed.  Although it has taken more than 150 years,  communities across our country, not just the south, are reckoning with their difficult history and determining what monuments they want displayed that reflect their current values.  Gone are the days when racism can be white-washed with misplaced patriotism.  In North Carolina alone more than 20 cities have removed statues that glorified the confederacy.  It is past time we confront the difficult history of our past and take to account the dead men in bronze who are not worthy of the future we collectively are creating today. 

It Feels A Shame To Be Alive

by Emily Dickinson

It feels a shame to be Alive—
When Men so brave—are dead—
One envies the Distinguished Dust—
Permitted—such a Head—

The Stone—that tells defending Whom
This Spartan put away
What little of Him we—possessed
In Pawn for Liberty—

The price is great—Sublimely paid—
Do we deserve—a Thing—
That lives—like Dollars—must be piled
Before we may obtain?

Are we that wait—sufficient worth—
That such Enormous Pearl
As life—dissolved be—for Us—
In Battle’s—horrid Bowl?

It may be—a Renown to live—
I think the Man who die—
Those unsustained—Saviors—
Present Divinity—


Plashless As They Swim

A July Butterfly on Our Walkway

A power of Butterfly must be –
The Aptitude to fly
Meadows of Majesty concedes
And easy Sweeps of Sky –

Emily Dickinson

A Bird Came Down The Walk

by Emily Dickinson

A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass—

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his velvet head

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer home—

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim

I have struggled lately to listen to the news on NPR (National Public Radio) on my daily commute.  It feels like a drum beat of negativity on COVID, environmental degradation, global warming, growing political ineffectiveness.  I find myself disconnecting from the chaos of the outside world and drawing back inwards and outwards towards nature.  It makes me appreciate the pheasant feather I found in the driveway,  the butterflies resting in the sun along our sidewalk, the red deer standing in the hay field, the sand hill crane calling from the wet land, the lilies blooming in the garden, the little birds flitting about in the garden.  The crazier the world becomes the more solace I find in the tiny slice of nature I am able to experience on a daily basis.  The problem with science and technology is the endless improvement in efficiency of natural resource extraction.   We are becoming so highly specialized in every field of mining and drilling we are getting too good at draining the natural world of its resources. 

I spent last Saturday with my father and we visited the house and town he grew up in from age 3 to 5th grade.  The house is still there, as are most of his neighbor’s homes from that period, but the connection to the simplicity of his life that prepared him for the modern world is gone.   He described his childhood as idyllic, a small town in Iowa in the 1930’s, surrounded by farms, forests and meadows.  He described learning to swim in the nearby creeks in the summer and sledding on the local hills on home made sleds made from crate lumber from the town’s feed mill.  He grew up in the depression, when everyone was on a level playing field economically, trying to scrape by with big gardens, chickens, and resourcefulness to make your own things and make your own fun.   I took a picture of him out front of the house on Saturday in what was then Ontario, Iowa, now lost inside the city limits of Ames.  We later that day were given a picture of him around 4th grade outside the same house, in a hand me down overcoat, far too big for him that he had yet to grow into, but had fond memories of being worn by all the boys in his family that had preceded him. Maybe its inevitable that modernity slowly devours the past.  But I am grateful the one room school house my father attended from Kindergarten through 5th grade still stands, even if it has been re-purposed as a  single family home. 

The inventiveness of Dickinson’s poetry continues to surprise and delight me as I become more familiar with her work.   Her ability to invent language is remarkable.  I had to look up several versions of the poem above to confirm that plashless was indeed accurate in its spelling of what she intended.   Splashing is something different than plashing and the absence of plash with a butterfly on a pool of water is the kind of unique observation of the natural world that makes the poem live in imagery far beyond the words.    As I mentioned early in the month, Frost seems to be on my mind right now in ways I can’t explain.  I find his poem below remarkable in its ability to convey an aroma that only a person with an apple tree in their yard or farm can understand.   The smell of slightly fermenting rotting apples upon the ground that bequeath one final act of benevolence in their gift as an apple, an aroma of the potential that was once their bounty. 


by Robert Frost

A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

Catch Me If You Can

Springtime Robin

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking

by Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Little Robin Redbreast

By Anonymous
Little Robin Redbreast
    Sat upon a tree;
Up went Pussy-cat,
    Down went he.
Down came Pussy-cat,
    And away Robin ran;
Says little Robin Redbreast
    “Catch me if you can.”
Little Robin Redbreast
    Hopped upon a wall;
Pussy-cat jumped after him,
    And almost got a fall.
Little Robin chirped and sang,
    And what did Pussy say?
Pussy-cat said “Mew,”
    and Robin flew away.


Before Some Great Unutterable Thought

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

As if the Sea Should Part

by Emily Dickinson

As if the Sea should part
And show a further Sea —
And that — a further — and the Three
But a presumption be —

Of Periods of Seas —
Unvisited of Shores —
Themselves the Verge of Seas to be —
Eternity — is Those —

I aspire to be dubbed an idler.   It sounds like a knighthood for sonnet writers. The Beneficent Society of Idlers strikes a nice cord, maybe with a large pennant on a red velvet cord for worthy recipients. Great unutterable thoughts that somehow are still uttered is what makes poetry a glue that connects people across time and place. Dickinson is the master of the unutterable and letting unutterances exist between the words and yet be completely understood despite each of our understandings different.

Poetry is not a user manual.   It is not meant to be literal or complete.  The best of it it is a glimpse into another’s inner life, hopes, dreams and miseries.  And if the Sea should part and understanding is lying gleaming in the sand, don’t rush in too quick to pick it up.  Let the Sea return to equilibrium and let it soak for a bit.  And then dive down again to revel in your discoveries, holding your breath with excitement.

They Dub Thee Idler

by Henry Timrod (1828 – 1867)

They dub thee idler, smiling sneeringly,
And why? because, forsooth, so many moons,
Here dwelling voiceless by the voiceful sea,
Thou hast not set thy thoughts to paltry tunes
In song or sonnet. Them these golden noons
Oppress not with their beauty; they could prate,
Even while a prophet read the solemn runes
On which is hanging some imperial fate.
How know they, these good gossips, what to thee
The ocean and its wanderers may have brought?
How know they, in their busy vacancy,
With what far aim thy spirit may be fraught?
Or that thou dost not bow thee silently
Before some great unutterable thought?


The World Is Too Much With Us

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.

William Wordsworth

The World is Too Much With Us

by William Wordsworth

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!
This 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 wreathèd horn.

The world has felt too much of late, this year’s mid summer holiday not even registering as a holiday in my mind, it was so completely removed from traditional rituals and celebrations.  I stayed home and social distanced and worked on projects.

Dickinson does have a way of coming up with phrases that register as strangely optimistic in my thoughts;

“Unconcern so sovereign To Universe, or me – Infects my simple spirit with Taints of Majesty, till I take vaster attitudes and strut upon my stem, disdaining Men and Oxygen for Arrogance of them.”

Arrogance was in full regalia this past weekend by Trump in his usual narcissistic ramblings with his absolute lack of empathy for the impact that COVID-19 is having on families, individuals and communities.  I am still energized by the moment that change is happening and pleased to see emblems of white privilege and worse white supremacy under scrutiny, like the names of pro sports teams, finally coming to a reckoning for change.  Let’s hope that it is more than talk and action follows to eliminate symbols of injustice and bias with new emphasis on inclusion and crafting a legacy all can be proud and embrace.  I am hopeful being a patriot is supporting a better, more just path forward.

Of Bronze—and Blaze—

by Emily Dickinson

Of Bronze—and Blaze—
The North—Tonight—
So adequate—it forms—
So preconcerted with itself—
So distant—to alarms—
And Unconcern so sovereign
To Universe, or me—
Infects my simple spirit
With Taints of Majesty—
Till I take vaster attitudes—
And strut upon my stem—
Disdaining Men, and Oxygen,
For Arrogance of them—

My Splendors, are Menagerie—
But their Competeless Show
Will entertain the Centuries
When I, am long ago,
An Island in dishonored Grass—
Whom none but Daisies, know.

In Forgetfulness Divine

download (3)
John Keats

I was never afraid of failure, for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.

John Keats

On Sleep

by John Keats (1795 – 1821)

O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleased eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine;
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the amen, ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities;
Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd casket of my soul.

A Long, Long Sleep

by Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

A long — long Sleep — A famous — Sleep —
That makes no show for Morn —
By Stretch of Limb — or stir of Lid —
An independent One —

Was ever idleness like This?
Upon a Bank of Stone
To bask the Centuries away —
Nor once look up — for Noon

Over The Land Is April


Absent Place—an April Day—
Daffodils a-blow
Homesick curiosity
To the Souls that snow—

Drift may block within it
Deeper than without—
Daffodil delight but
Him it duplicate—

Emily Dickinson

Over The Land Is April

by Robert Louis Stevenson

OVER the land is April,
Over my heart a rose;
Over the high, brown mountain
The sound of singing goes.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain,
Love, do you hear me sing?

By highway, love, and byway
The snows succeed the rose.
Over the high, brown mountain
The wind of winter blows.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain
I sound the song of spring,
I throw the flowers of spring.
Do you hear the song of spring?
Hear you the songs of spring?

A Song of a Second April

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

April this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago,
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.

There rings a hammering all day,
And shingles lie about the doors;
In orchards near and far away
The grey wood-pecker taps and bores;
The men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.

The larger streams run still and deep,
Noisy and swift the small brooks run
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
Go up the hillside in the sun,
Pensively,—only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.


Dear March – Come In


Florida Sunshine – Photograph by Rikki Patton

A Light Exists In Spring

by Emily Dickinson

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.

The adage; “In like a lion, out like a lamb, in like a lamb out like a lion,”  gives all Minnesotans and Northerners pause when we find ourselves in the high 40’s on March 2, wondering what Mother Nature has in store for us in 4 weeks.

I spent the final week of February in Florida on business with a little fun thrown in at the end. The quality of the light was fundamentally different than just weeks before in Minnesota. There is a sense of serenity that comes with the arrival of March. Bulbs blooming on the kitchen table will soon be bulbs blooming in the front yard.  And though there will be a few more cold days and likely a snow squall or two, the sun is winning the battle and winter is coming to an end.  I agree with Emily – Dear March, come in, come right in and make yourself at home.  We are glad to see you return. 

Dear March – Come In

by Emily Dickinson

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

God Forbid I Look Behind


The Only Ghost I Ever Saw

by Emily Dickinson

The only ghost I ever saw
Was dressed in mechlin, –so;
He wore no sandal on his foot,
And stepped like flakes of snow.
His gait was soundless, like the bird,
But rapid, like the roe;
His fashions quaint, mosaic,
Or, haply, mistletoe.

Hi conversation seldom,
His laughter like the breeze
That dies away in dimples
Among the pensive trees.
Our interview was transient, —
Of me, himself was shy;
And God forbid I look behind
Since that appalling day!


I attended a performance of Amal and the Night Visitors this weekend with James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis.   A simple tale, an operetta set to motion as a ballet, that reminds us that our lives change for the better when we open the door to the stranger and welcome them inside.  I agree with Delmore Schwartz.  Let Angels be the judge of dogs and children.  Some people believe babies are born with all the knowledge of the world, childhood is unlearning what they already know. Dogs are born with similar knowledge.  They are born trusting.  And in companionship they learn to magnify that trust or it diminishes, depending on the person in their charge.  To howl and dance out our souls sounds like a good plan for dogs, children and adults.


Dogs Are Shakespearean, Children are Strangers

by Delmore Schwartz

Dogs are Shakespearean, children are strangers.
Let Freud and Wordsworth discuss the child,
Angels and Platonists shall judge the dog,
The running dog, who paused, distending nostrils,
Then barked and wailed; the boy who pinched his sister,
The little girl who sang the song from Twelfth Night,
As if she understood the wind and rain,
The dog who moaned, hearing the violins in concert.
—O I am sad when I see dogs or children!
For they are strangers, they are Shakespearean.

Tell us, Freud, can it be that lovely children
Have merely ugly dreams of natural functions?
And you, too, Wordsworth, are children truly
Clouded with glory, learned in dark Nature?
The dog in humble inquiry along the ground,
The child who credits dreams and fears the dark,
Know more and less than you: they know full well
Nor dream nor childhood answer questions well:
You too are strangers, children are Shakespearean.

Regard the child, regard the animal,
Welcome strangers, but study daily things,
Knowing that heaven and hell surround us,
But this, this which we say before we’re sorry,
This which we live behind our unseen faces,
Is neither dream, nor childhood, neither
Myth, nor landscape, final, nor finished,
For we are incomplete and know no future,
And we are howling or dancing out our souls
In beating syllables before the curtain:
We are Shakespearean, we are strangers.