She Drinks Of Living Waters

Tiger lilies at the end of the drive way.

“Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.”

Pablo Neruda

A Calendar of Sonnets:  July

by Helen Hunt Jackson

Some flowers are withered and some joys have died;
The garden reeks with an East Indian scent
From beds where gillyflowers stand weak and spent;
The white heat pales the skies from side to side;
But in still lakes and rivers, cool, content,
Like starry blooms on a new firmament,
White lilies float and regally abide.
In vain the cruel skies their hot rays shed;
The lily does not feel their brazen glare.
In vain the pallid clouds refuse to share
Their dews, the lily feels no thirst, no dread.
Unharmed she lifts her queenly face and head;
She drinks of living waters and keeps fair.


Having traveled rural Minnesota, North and South Dakota and parts of Wisconsin roads for all of my career, I can tell you  orange day lilies (Hermerocallis fulva) are ubiquitous along roadsides and at the end of driveways of farms and rural properties.   Mistakenly called Tiger lilies sometimes, because of the orange coloring, this day lily is an introduced species that has gone rogue and grows wild.   I am rather fond of this perennial, invasive or not, as it reminds me of roads traveled as a child.  I am rather pleased there is a nice clump thriving at the end of our driveway, no surprise as its close to a wetland/seasonal creek and is the perfect setting for this plant.  Obviously day lilies came west with settlers early on, a tuber tucked away to brighten up a vegetable garden.  To the orange day lilies credit, it is hearty enough to take care of itself and naturalize into areas in which it was never cultivated.   I find Jackson’s reference to the lily in her poem a reminder of how gardeners observations don’t change much over time. 

I am far enough along in the Fourteenlines project, that I have an archive of drafts I have set aside waiting for the right time to possibly use them.  I was surprised as I reviewed potential July drafts there were a number of Robert Frost poems waiting for me that I have found over the past year or so.   Frost’s talent sneaks up on me.  I tend to not think of him when people ask me who are my favorite poets, and yet I find myself more and more attracted to his poetry. 

The poem below maybe hard to interpret unless you have some experience with an old fashioned well.   A well-curb is a masonry, stone or brick structure around the above ground portion of a well that protects anyone from falling in it and also to keep things out from contaminating the water.   If you have never lived on a property with a well, modern or old, you may not have an understanding of the frequent ways you interact with your water source.  To relate to this poem, you have to become a little boy or a curious adult, who is fascinated by the cool water that comes out of the well and likely the hand made structure from stone and mortar or concrete or brick that protects this vital asset of your home and farm.  Wells were hand dug in the 19th century, generally maintained by the family and a source of clear, sweet drinking water was something to be prized.   Frost’s poem below is an opportunity to transport yourself back in time, when water didn’t come out of the tap, and see the wonder that lays just beyond our reach. 


For Once, Then, Something

Robert Frost – (1874-1963) 

 

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

We Forever Choose

William Blake (1757 – 1827)

“Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed.”

William Blake

 

Dreams

by Helen Hunt Jackson

Mysterious shapes, with wands of joy and pain,
Which seize us unaware in helpless sleep,
And lead us to the houses where we keep
Our secrets hid, well barred by every chain
That we can forge and bind: the crime whose stain
Is slowly fading ’neath the tears we weep;
Dead bliss which, dead, can make our pulses leap—
Oh, cruelty! To make these live again!
They say that death is sleep, and heaven’s rest
Ends earth’s short day, as, on the last faint gleam
Of sun, our nights shut down, and we are blest.
Let this, then, be of heaven’s joy the test,
The proof if heaven be, or only seem,
That we forever choose what we will dream


A Cradle Song

By William Blake

Sleep, sleep, beauty bright,
Dreaming in the joys of night;
Sleep, sleep; in thy sleep
Little sorrows sit and weep.

Sweet babe, in thy face
Soft desires I can trace,
Secret joys and secret smiles,
Little pretty infant wiles.

As thy softest limbs I feel
Smiles as of the morning steal
O’er thy cheek, and o’er thy breast
Where thy little heart doth rest.

O the cunning wiles that creep
In thy little heart asleep!
When thy little heart doth wake,
Then the dreadful night shall break.

 

I Smile To Think

Motherhood is priced of God, at price no man may dare to lessen or understand.

Helen Hunt Jackson

 

Poppies On The Wheat

by Helen Hunt Jackson (1830 – 1885)

 
Along Ancona’s hills the shimmering heat,
A tropic tide of air with ebb and flow
Bathes all the fields of wheat until they glow
Like flashing seas of green, which toss and beat
Around the vines. The poppies lithe and fleet
Seem running, fiery torchmen, to and fro
To mark the shore.
The farmer does not know
That they are there. He walks with heavy feet,
Counting the bread and wine by autumn’s gain,
But I,—I smile to think that days remain
Perhaps to me in which, though bread be sweet
No more, and red wine warm my blood in vain,
I shall be glad remembering how the fleet,
Lithe poppies ran like torchmen with the wheat.

 


Helen Hunt Jackson’s poetry is filled with the loss she experienced in her life.  By 1865, at age 25, Jackson had lost her first husband and two children to disease and accidents.  She moved to Colorado Springs and a sanitarium seeking a cure for tuberculosis.  There she met a wealthy banker and married.  The final 20 years of her life she became devoted to the cause of improving the rights and conditions of Native Americans, after having met Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe from Nebraska at a lecture in Boston. Upset about the mistreatment of Native Americans, Jackson became an activist on their behalf, publicizing the government’s misconduct.  She began circulating petitions, raising money, and writing letters to The New York Times on behalf of the Ponca.  Jackson’s became so focused on this issue she was quoted as saying, “I would wake up in the morning and write 2,000 to 3,000 words, faster than I could write a letter, as if I could do anything else.”  She would go on to write A Century Of Dishonor (1881) which describes the mistreatment of Native Americans by the American Government.  In 1884 she shrewdly wrote a romance novel to popularize the issue among a broader audience in the novel Romana, which used the backdrop of romance to tell the plight of Native Americans in Southern California after the Mexican-American war for her heroine.   The novel was a success and reprinted over 300 times.  It attracted a large readership to the issues surrounding Native American rights. 

“If I could write a story that would do for the Indian one hundredth part of what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for slaves I would be thankful for the rest of my life.” 

Helen Hunt Jackson

Jackson obviously had sufficient wealth to travel, her opening line giving it away with the reference to Ancona.  Poppies are not a frequent flower in the wheat fields of North America, but are in Europe and England.  The poppies she is referring to come from a picturesque field in Italy to which she must have traveled.  Both Jackson’s and Kemble’s poems deal with the brevity of life and use the metaphors of weeds in our own plot of land that we till.  In Jackson’s case the poppy is the carefree interloper to remind us of the enjoyment of life’s pleasures, despite her losses, whereas Kemble’s weed is more poisonous, an “evil weed of woe” that casts its shade upon the productive soils of her youth.  Both poems are a bit melodramatic and old fashioned for my tastes, but solid reminders of how the sonnet form has inspired writers over hundred of years in expressing their emotions and memories.  One of the reasons I think the sonnet lends itself to theme’s of loss, is its relatively short.  The sonnet allows the author to release and heal while not wallowing in past.   Of the two sonnets, I enjoy Jackson’s more, with the optimism and the beauty of the red poppies a reminder that even in the solidarity of wheat’s goodness, it can’t quench the exuberance and defiance of the poppy to spice up life. 


Thou Poisonous Laurel Leaf

by Frances Anne Kemble (1809 – 1893)

Thou poisonous laurel leaf, that in the soil
Of life, which I am doomed to till full sore,
Spring’st like a noisome weed! I do not toil
For thee, and yet thou still com’st darkening o’er
My plot of earth with thy unwelcome shade.
Thou nightshade of the heart, beneath whose boughs
All fair and gentle buds hang withering,
Why hast thou wreathed thyself around my brows,
Casting from thence the blossoms of my spring,
Breathing on youth’s sweet roses till they fade?
Alas! thou art an evil weed of woe,
Watered with tears and watched with sleepless care,
Seldom doth envy thy green glories spare;
And yet men covet thee—ah, wherefore do they so!