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. 


Unharvested

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.

Earnest Love That Laid The Swale In Rows

Freshly baled hay smells so good!

The fears of what may come to pass, I cast them all away, Among the clover scented grass, Among the new-mown hay

Louise Imogen Guiney

Mowing

BY ROBERT FROST
 
There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
 

It was a busy week at the farm.   The alpaca got sheared, the hay field was cut and baled and the 160 new square bales stacked in the shed.  You can tell by Captain Crunch’s grin that he’s pleased about it too.  Our barn yard has a pleasant smell.   We have a small Case IH utility tractor, 1956 55 HP with a loader that makes quick work of cleaning up the horse stall and the alpaca pen.  Alpaca have this interesting trait in that they defecate and urinate in the same place, outside their stall in the barn yard.   It makes it very easy to clean things up every other week or so.   

There is something immensely satisfying in cutting your own hay field.   This is a hay field that is in need of some agronomic attention next year, a bit scant on clover, but nothing a little fertilizer and over seeding can’t cure.   It is the kind of hay field that doesn’t lend itself to much else, too rolling in some areas, too wet in others, it fits its purpose as pasture for the horse and hay cut once a year.   The hay field is surrounded by huge preserve and wetlands, which makes for great habitat for birds and insects and wildlife.  It is the kind of hayfield that is disappearing in my county, sadly to development and new houses.   We are hoping to hold on to this little slice during our lifetimes.  

When you see pictures of Robert Frost, it’s clear he was a farmer at heart.  The poetry of his that I am most attracted to are his postcards in words of his life and observations of nature on the farm.   Frost is at his best in my mind when he is simplest in his words.   I hope to follow in his foot steps and grow old tending to fruit trees, a chicken or two, some bees and a garden that requires daily attention.  It is not surprising that there are many references to pastures in poetry.    Seek out a pasture and lay down in it.  Watch the clouds go by for a bit quietly, hiding in the grass.  And then slowly peek above the grass,  look about and see what comes to visit you.  Is it any surprise that pastures are an inspiration to writers throughout history?  

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; 

Psalm 23

Butterfly in our pasture in June.

The Pasture

By Robert Frost
 
I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
 
I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
 
 

We Gave Ourselves Outright

Fourth Of July

The Gift Outright

 
by Robert Frost
 
 
The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become
 

When I was a child my Mother hung the stars and strips flag outside our front door each fourth of July.   She did it on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day as well.  It was a gesture to honor her Father, who served in both World War I and World War II.  She was genuinely patriotic.  It was a high quality flag, with a good wooden pole and gold knob at the end.  It was stored in our front coat closet and sometimes when we played hide and seek when I was little I would hide in that closet in the dark corner and unfurl a bit of the flag and cloak myself behind it.  It was a winning strategy.  

Hiding behind the flag has been a winning strategy for politicians forever.   An inflated sense of patriotism seems to be a requirement to become a politician.   It feels harder to for me to be patriotic these days.  Yesterday NPR read the entire Declaration of Independence.  The opening is beautiful and poetic.   It gets tougher to listen to as it rolls into the myriad of grievances it spells out and the pomposity of white men declaring everything their sovereign right to ownership, ignoring the in inalienable rights of women, Native Americans and slaves. I am surprised there has not been a larger movement to redress the language of the Declaration of Independence to eliminate the blatant racism that exists within the document.   NPR did a good job of both reading it as written and unpacking the parts that should be questioned and condemned, specifically clause 27; 

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

To all who believe racism is not structurally still present in our systems of government, we need look no further than our most important documents.  Why do we continue to allow language to exist that is offensive, simply because its historical?  This is  not just a federal issue, the same problems exist at the state level.  As late as February 2020, Minnesota’s state constitution still had a reference to slavery.  Although slavery was illegal from Minnesota’s founding in 1857, it contained a clause that slavery was a justifiable form of punishment for crimes unspecified, leaving plenty of room for interpretation; “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”

Apparently slavery is illegal, unless you deserve it, according to my state’s constitution.  Of course that’s ridiculous, but if it’s so ridiculous, why is that language remain, unquestioned for so long?   Removing racist, idiotic, hurtful language, in my mind is not being politically correct, it’s about being politically aligned with how we define our democracy today.  When we allow vestiges of our racist history to remain in our most important government institutions, we give racism a foot hold for justification, a Trojan horse of hate, that continues to wreak havoc on our ability to unify as a nation, with respect for all people.  Let’s read beyond the pretty parts of our government documents, the parts that make our hearts swell with patriotic pride and dig a little deeper.   And then let’s task our politicians with living our collective values and striking down through legislation the racist sentiments that linger still in our government institutions. 


Grandmother’s Land

by William Oandasan

around the house stood an
orchard of plum, apple and pear
a blackwalnut tree, one white pine,
groves of white oak and willow clumps
the home of Jessie was largely redwood

blood, flesh and bone sprouted
inside her womb of redwood
for five generations
the trees now stand unpruned and wild

after relocating so many years before the War
the seeds of Jessie have returned

afternoon sunlight on the field
breezes moving grass and leaves
memories with family names wait
within the earth, the mountains,
the valley, the field, the trees

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.

October Is The Treasurer Of The Year

Minnesota Late October 2020

And were an epitaph to be my story I’d have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

Robert Frost

October

By Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.


Today is likely one of the last mild days of fall, temperatures still in the mid 60’s but with a forecast of much colder air descending into Minnesota tomorrow and it then staying colder for the foreseeable 10 day forecast. There will still be likely one or two pleasant days ahead, but days you can leave the house without a jacket again are likely 5 months away.

There is something more precious in my appreciation of October warm days than there is of the first burst of spring. It feels like spring warmth comes in abundance, while the ever shortening days and longer colder nights of fall make me savor the last warm rays of sunshine. Poetry with fall themes tend be more serious than the poetry of spring, fall is a time for reflection not love sick jocularity.. Fall poetry tends to look backwards over the road just travelled, contemplative and reserved. What’s your favorite time of year? Do you have a favorite fall poem?


October

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

October is the treasurer of the year,
And all the months pay bounty to her store;
The fields and orchards still their tribute bear,
And fill her brimming coffers more and more.
But she, with youthful lavishness,
Spends all her wealth in gaudy dress,
And decks herself in garments bold
Of scarlet, purple, red, and gold.
She heedeth not how swift the hours fly,
But smiles and sings her happy life along;
She only sees above a shining sky;
She only hears the breezes’ voice in song.
Her garments trail the woodlands through,
And gather pearls of early dew
That sparkle, till the roguish Sun
Creeps up and steals them every one.
But what cares she that jewels should be lost,
When all of Nature’s bounteous wealth is hers?
Though princely fortunes may have been their cost,
Not one regret her calm demeanor stirs.
Whole-hearted, happy, careless, free,
She lives her life out joyously,
Nor cares when Frost stalks o’er her way
And turns her auburn locks to gray.

Countless Silken Ties of Love and Thought

IMG_8718
The magical world inside a tent.

The Silken Tent

by Robert Frost

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightlest bondage made aware.


I have used this time at home to continue the purge of belongings I began 10 years ago. There is something healthy about going from 3,000 square feet to 710 square feet of living space.  It puts a premium on prioritizing what belongings have value.  In cleaning out my garage this week, I came across the REI six man tent that was my car camp tent when my children were small. It accompanied us on many adventures.  It is now 30 years old and despite multiple attempts at re-water proofing the fly, the last few times it has been used it has proven disappointing in its ability to function as a tent should.  It also is bigger than I need now and weighs more than I want for hiking, so I decided it was time to part ways.  I ran a CL list ad basically giving it away to a family as a kid fort in the back yard, to serve as some outdoor summer fun.  I had an immediate response and it has found a better home where I hope it can create for another child some of the memories I have of the family tent as a fort in the back yard for daytime adventures and the occasional fair weather sleep over with a friend.

It is surprising to me there are not more poems written with tents as a metaphor for something grand and mystical. But then I have to remind myself that those of us that have been lucky enough to grow up with tents as part of their summer adventures are not in the majority, too many families either weren’t capable of vacations or parents ideas of vacations did not include biting insects, sand in your underwear and burned hot dogs over a fire.  I am so grateful my parents did.

Do you have a favorite memory regarding a tent?   What’s happened to your family tent?  Is it still serviceable?  Do you have plans to use it or is it time to let it find a new home and another purpose?


The Tent

by Naomi Shihab Nye – 1952

When did hordes of sentences start beginning with So?
As if everything were always pending,
leaning on what came before.
What can you expect?
Loneliness everywhere, entertained or kept in storage.
So you felt anxious to be alone.
Easier to hear, explore a city, room,
mound of hours, no one walking beside you.
Talking to self endlessly, but mostly listening.
This would not be strange.
It would be the tent you slept in.
Waking calmly inside whatever
you had to do would be freedom.
It would be your country.
The men in front of me had whole acres
in their eyes. I could feel them cross, recross each day.
Memory, stitched.  History, soothed.
What we do or might prefer to do. Have done.
How we got here. Telling ourselves a story
till it’s compact enough to bear.
Passing the walls, wearing the sky,
the slight bow and rising of trees.
Everything ceaselessly holding us close.
So we are accompanied.
Never cast out without a line of language to reel us back.
That is what happened, how I got here.
So maybe. One way anyway.
A story was sewn, seed sown,
this was what patriotism meant to me—
to be at home inside my own head long enough
to accept its infinite freedom
and move forward anywhere, to mysteries coming.
Even at night in a desert, temperatures plummet,
billowing tent flaps murmur to one other.

As Tree By Enterprise and Expedition

IMG_7668
Burl Ives – Silver and Gold

To A Young Wretch

by Robert Frost

As gay for you to take your father’s ax
As take his gun – rod – to go hunting – fishing.
You nick my spruce until its fiber cracks,
It gives up standing straight and goes down swishing.
You link arm in its arm and you lean
Across the light snow homeward smelling green.

I could have bought you just as good a tree
To frizzle resin in a candle flame,
And what a saving it would have meant to me.
But tree by charity is not the same
As tree by enterprise and expedition.
I must not spoil your Christmas with contrition.

It is your Christmases against my woods.
But even where, thus, opposing interests kill,
They are to be thought of as opposing goods
Oftener than as conflicting good and evil;
Which makes the war god seem no special dunce
For always fighting on both sides at once.

And though in tinsel chain and popcorn rope
My tree, a captive in your window bay,
Has lost its footing on my mountain slope
And lost the stars of heaven, may, oh, may
The symbol star it lifts against your ceiling
Help me accept its fate with Christmas feeling.


I was recently informed that only men over the age of 50 still watch Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. I often watch it more than once during the holidays, so I fit the type casting. I have such positive memories around the gentle humor of Rudolph. It is a love story of misfits and many of us feel a bit like a misfit at Christmas.

I am well along in my holiday preparations. My Tom’s best of music CD for 2019 is complete in figuring out the two CD set and the CD’s nearly completely burned, I have to finish printing covers and put them together.  My Tom’s best of poetry for 2019 is figured out, the poems selected and the pages nearly completely printed. I need to finish making covers and then bind them together.  It all feels doable by Christmas. One more night of watching Rudolph while working on gifts and I will have it all done.  I hope you indulge yourself in holiday traditions and sentimental journeys and a bit of gift making. Happy Holidays.

 

Love Came Down At Christmas

By Christina Rossetti

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

A Vision For Thieves

The Mountain Laureate

by J. Logie Robertson

Morning is flashing from a glorious sun
On the broad shoulders of the giant fells
That outreach arms across the narrow dells
And form a silent brotherhood of one
Listening their skylark laureate! New begun
He up the heavens in ever-rising swells
Carries their thanksgiving in song that wells
From his small breast as if ‘twould ne’er be done.
What life his music gives them! They are free
In the wild freedom of his daring wing;
And in the cataract of his song, the sea
Of poetry that fills all heaven, they sing;
He is their poet-prophet in his glee,
And in his work and worth their priest and king!


The wild blueberries were at their peak during my time in Roan, Norway in the high country last week. These are blueberries unlike anything you experience in domesticated production from the grocery store. The plants have found a hard won foothold among rocks, trees, lichen and moss, and thrive to produce one to a small handful of fruit per plant.  The plants can be as short as a couple of inches and the berries though small are loaded to the brim in color and flavor.  We had brought traditional Norwegian potato-fish cakes and I made a wild blueberry sauce to go over the top to give it that special wilderness magic.


Blueberries

by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

 

“You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson’s pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!”
“I don’t know what part of the pasture you mean.”
“You know where they cut off the woods–let me see–
It was two years ago–or no!–can it be
No longer than that?–and the following fall
The fire ran and burned it all up but the wall.”
“Why, there hasn’t been time for the bushes to grow.
That’s always the way with the blueberries, though:
There may not have been the ghost of a sign
Of them anywhere under the shade of the pine,
But get the pine out of the way, you may burn
The pasture all over until not a fern
Or grass-blade is left, not to mention a stick,
And presto, they’re up all around you as thick
And hard to explain as a conjuror’s trick.”
“It must be on charcoal they fatten their fruit.
I taste in them sometimes the flavour of soot.
And after all really they’re ebony skinned:
The blue’s but a mist from the breath of the wind,
A tarnish that goes at a touch of the hand,
And less than the tan with which pickers are tanned.”
“Does Mortenson know what he has, do you think?”
“He may and not care and so leave the chewink
To gather them for him–you know what he is.
He won’t make the fact that they’re rightfully his
An excuse for keeping us other folk out.”
“I wonder you didn’t see Loren about.”
“The best of it was that I did. Do you know,
I was just getting through what the field had to show
And over the wall and into the road,
When who should come by, with a democrat-load
Of all the young chattering Lorens alive,
But Loren, the fatherly, out for a drive.”
“He saw you, then? What did he do? Did he frown?”
“He just kept nodding his head up and down.
You know how politely he always goes by.
But he thought a big thought–I could tell by his eye–
Which being expressed, might be this in effect:
‘I have left those there berries, I shrewdly suspect,
To ripen too long. I am greatly to blame.'”
“He’s a thriftier person than some I could name.”
“He seems to be thrifty; and hasn’t he need,
With the mouths of all those young Lorens to feed?
He has brought them all up on wild berries, they say,
Like birds. They store a great many away.
They eat them the year round, and those they don’t eat
They sell in the store and buy shoes for their feet.”
“Who cares what they say? It’s a nice way to live,
Just taking what Nature is willing to give,
Not forcing her hand with harrow and plow.”
“I wish you had seen his perpetual bow–
And the air of the youngsters! Not one of them turned,
And they looked so solemn-absurdly concerned.”
“I wish I knew half what the flock of them know
Of where all the berries and other things grow,
Cranberries in bogs and raspberries on top
Of the boulder-strewn mountain, and when they will crop.
I met them one day and each had a flower
Stuck into his berries as fresh as a shower;
Some strange kind–they told me it hadn’t a name.”
“I’ve told you how once not long after we came,
I almost provoked poor Loren to mirth
By going to him of all people on earth
To ask if he knew any fruit to be had
For the picking. The rascal, he said he’d be glad
To tell if he knew. But the year had been bad.
There had been some berries–but those were all gone.
He didn’t say where they had been. He went on:
‘I’m sure–I’m sure’–as polite as could be.
He spoke to his wife in the door, ‘Let me see,
Mame, we don’t know any good berrying place?’
It was all he could do to keep a straight face.
“If he thinks all the fruit that grows wild is for him,
He’ll find he’s mistaken. See here, for a whim,
We’ll pick in the Mortensons’ pasture this year.
We’ll go in the morning, that is, if it’s clear,
And the sun shines out warm: the vines must be wet.
It’s so long since I picked I almost forget
How we used to pick berries: we took one look round,
Then sank out of sight like trolls underground,
And saw nothing more of each other, or heard,
Unless when you said I was keeping a bird
Away from its nest, and I said it was you.
‘Well, one of us is.’ For complaining it flew
Around and around us. And then for a while
We picked, till I feared you had wandered a mile,
And I thought I had lost you. I lifted a shout
Too loud for the distance you were, it turned out,
For when you made answer, your voice was as low
As talking–you stood up beside me, you know.”
“We sha’n’t have the place to ourselves to enjoy–
Not likely, when all the young Lorens deploy.
They’ll be there to-morrow, or even to-night.
They won’t be too friendly–they may be polite–
To people they look on as having no right
To pick where they’re picking. But we won’t complain.
You ought to have seen how it looked in the rain,
The fruit mixed with water in layers of leaves,
Like two kinds of jewels, a vision for thieves.”

Pleased Once More With Words of Mine

EDWARD-THOMAS
Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917)

In Memoriam (Easter 1915)

by Edward Thomas

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.

 

To E. T.

by Robert Frost

I slumbered with your poems on my breast
Spread open as I dropped them half-read through
Like dove wings on a figure on a tomb
To see, if in a dream they brought of you,

I might not have the chance I missed in life
Through some delay, and call you to your face
First soldier, and then poet, and then both,
Who died a soldier-poet of your race.

I meant, you meant, that nothing should remain
Unsaid between us, brother, and this remained—
And one thing more that was not then to say:
The Victory for what it lost and gained.

You went to meet the shell’s embrace of fire
On Vimy Ridge; and when you fell that day
The war seemed over more for you than me,
But now for me than you—the other way.

How over, though, for even me who knew
The foe thrust back unsafe beyond the Rhine,
If I was not to speak of it to you
And see you pleased once more with words of mine?


Edward Thomas never saw any of his poetry in print, a small volume of six poems under an alias came out shortly after his death in the Battle of Arras in 1917, having enlilsted in the infantry two years prior in 1915.  Thomas was a poorly paid hack for most of his life, putting out anything that would pay a modest wage to feed an ever growing family.  He wrote mostly criticisms and reviews of other writers work for most of his career, until a year long friendship with Robert Frost unleashed his creative potential, when Frost encouraged him to start writing poetry in the final three years of his life.

I wonder reading Thomas’ poetry if he would be half as admired if he had not died in France in World War I? I don’t mean that as an insult but an honest question. I do not find Thomas’ poetry particularly compelling, in fact I find the poems written about him far more interesting. However I realize it is poor manners to admit you don’t particularly like the poetry of war heroes, being far easier to just accept that the many learned academics who have reviewed him kindly after he died as accurate in their warm regards for his contribution to 20th century literature.

Thomas was a gifted prose writer whose critiques and reviews were witty, biting and insightful. Thomas’ undeniable contribution to American Literature was the push his passionate review of Frost’s 1914 collection of poems titled North of Boston provided, it being the first volume of Frost’s poetry that was met with critical and financial success.

I realize I may need to read more of Thomas’ work to better understand his vibe as a poet.  Do you have a favorite E. T. poem?  Please share it and tell me why.


Easter Monday (In Memoriam E. T. )

by Eleanor Farjeon

In the last letter that I had from France
You thanked me for the silver Easter egg
Which I had hidden in the box of apples
You liked to munch beyond all other fruit.
You found the egg the Monday before Easter,
And said, ‘I will praise Easter Monday now –
It was such a lovely morning’. Then you spoke
Of the coming battle and said, ‘This is the eve.
Good-bye. And may I have a letter soon.’

That Easter Monday was a day for praise,
It was such a lovely morning. In our garden
We sowed our earliest seeds, and in the orchard
The apple-bud was ripe. It was the eve.
There are three letters that you will not get.

Vastness I Should Steal Away

 

robert-frost
Robert Frost

“In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life, it goes on.”

Robert Frost

Into my Own

By Robert Frost

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.
I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.
I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him they knew–
Only more sure of all I thought was true.


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.