Thursday, June 30, 2011
(Botanical print of the fragrant herb rosemary:
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
~ Ophelia in Hamlet, IV, v)
We’ve spent the month of June with storge, the first of the four loves that C. S. Lewis examines. Storge means family affection, so we have featured poems about mothers and fathers and children.
We end June with a look at what memories are made of. Or, as Dean Martin sang in his hit song, “Sweet, sweet memories you gave me.”
My mother’s old handbag,
crowded with letters she carried
all through the war. The smell
of my mother’s handbag: mints
and lipstick and Coty powder.
The look of those letters, softened
and worn at the edges, opened,
read, and refolded so often.
Letters from my father. Odor
of leather and powder, which
ever since then has meant womanliness,
and love, and anguish, and war.
~ Ruth Fainlight, born 1931, American poet
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
(Orange Maternity, lithograph
by Marc Chagall, 1887-1985,
“To be a mother, to feel maternally, means to turn especially to the helpless, to incline lovingly and helpfully to every small and weak thing upon the earth. . . . Therefore the principle of motherhood is a dual one; it attaches itself not only to the birth of the child, but to the fostering and protecting of that which has been born. To become a mother physically means but the first breaking forth of the powers of maternity; it is only the first moving symbol of something that is much more universal. . . . Not alone is the child born through the mother, but the mother also is born through the child. . . . The child that at its birth breaks through its mother’s womb breaks through her heart also, opening it to all that is small and weak.” ~ Gertrud von le Fort (1876-1971), German writer and poet, from The Eternal Woman
THE SAD MOTHER
Sleep, sleep, my beloved,
without worry, without fear,
although my soul does not sleep,
although I do not rest.
Sleep, sleep, and in the night
may your whispers be softer
than a leaf of grass,
or the silken fleece of lambs.
May my flesh slumber in you,
my worry, my trembling.
In you, may my eyes close
and my heart sleep.
~ Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957), Chilean poet, diplomat, and teacher, and winner of the 1945 Nobel Prize in Literature
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
(Hopi Mother and Child by Edward Curtis,
1868-1952, American photographer)
Lullabies calm a baby to sleep. Some also introduce the child to the rhythms of life.
SONG FOR BRINGING A CHILD INTO THE WORLD
You day-sun, circling around,
You daylight, circling around,
You night-sun, circling around,
You poor body, circling around,
You wrinkled age, circling around,
You spotted gray, circling around,
You wrinkled skin, circling around.
~ Anonymous, Seminole American Indian
Monday, June 27, 2011
(Mother and Child by Paul Klee, 1879-1940, Swiss
Some of Sylvia Plath’s poems are intense expressions of her inner turmoil. They can be difficult to read.
This poem reveals her deep conflict within. As a mother, she writes tenderly and hopefully of the happiness she wishes for her child. But then, in the final stanza, she cannot avoid exposing her own pessimism and pain.
Two weeks after writing this, she committed suicide, leaving two children behind. She was only thirty years old. Decades later, her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, published a collection of his own verse, Birthday Letters, in which he broke his silence about his grief at losing her.
Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks.
The zoo of the new
Whose names you meditate —
April snowdrops, Indian pipe,
Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical
Not this troublous
Wring of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.
~ Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), American poet, and writer of novels and short stories
Sunday, June 26, 2011
(Mother and Child by Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973,
After he finished writing his poems for children, entitled A Child’s Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about them to a friend, noting that there was “something nice in the little ragged regiment . . . they seem to me to smile, to have a kind of childish treble note that sounds in my ears freshly — not song, if you will, but a child’s voice.”
This is one of the poems from that collection.
TO MY MOTHER
You too, my mother, read my rhymes
For love of unforgotten times,
And you may chance to hear once more
The little feet along the floor.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Scottish poet, novelist, and travel writer
Saturday, June 25, 2011
(Mother and Sleepy Child by Kitagawa
Utamaro, 1753?-1806, one of the greatest
of Japanese woodblock printmakers; his
work had a profound influence on the
Impressionist painters of the nineteenth
The intimate connection that a mother makes with her child in the womb doesn’t end at birth.
NOW THAT I AM FOREVER WITH CHILD
How the days went
While you were blooming within me
I remember each upon each —
The swelling changed planes of my body —
And how you first fluttered, then jumped
And I thought it was my heart.
How the days wound down
And the turning of winter
I recall, with you growing heavy
Against the wind. I thought
Now her hands
Are formed, and her hair
Has started to curl
Now her teeth are done
Now she sneezes.
Then the seed opened
I bore you one morning just before spring —
My head rang like a fiery piston
My legs were towers between which
A new world was passing.
I can only distinguish
One thread within running hours
You . . . flowing through selves
~ Audre Lord (1934-1992), American poet
Friday, June 24, 2011
(The Mother by Elizabeth Nourse, 1859-1938,
American landscape and portrait painter)
Over time, the unfulfilled wish for a child can change a woman as the ceaseless flow of a river changes the landscape.
WANTING A CHILD
How hard it is for the river here to re-enter
the sea, though it’s most beautiful, of course, in the waste
of time where it’s almost
turned back. Then
trussed . . . . The river
has been everywhere, imagine, dividing, discerning,
cutting deep into the parent rock,
scouring and scouring
its own bed.
Nothing is whole
where it has been. Nothing
Sometimes I’ll come this far from home
merely to dip my fingers in this glittering , archaic
sea that renders everything
where mind and body
blur. The seagulls squeak, ill-fitting
hinges, the beach is thick
with shells. The tide
is always pulsing upward, inland, into the river’s rapid
with its insistent tragic waves — the living echo,
says my book, of some great storm far out at sea, too far
to be recalled by us
whole onto this shore by waves, so that erosion
is its very face.
~ Jorie Graham, born 1950, American poet
Thursday, June 23, 2011
(Assiniboine Mother and Child by Edward Curtis, 1868-1952,
The sounds of birth resonate in sympathetic vibrations with nature.
SONG OF A WOMAN IN LABOR
in the evening
~ Anonymous, Tohono O’odham American Indian
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
(Tree of Life by Séraphine Louis, 1864-1942,
We learn to live with the verities of life.
Impossible to imagine
not knowing how to expect.
Impossible to imagine
years of the tall son.
Impossible to imagine,
~ Anne Stevenson, born 1933, American poet living in England
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
(A detail from Eve Naming the Birds by William Blake,
1757-1827, English poet, painter, engraver, and mystic
visionary. This is a companion piece to Blake’s painting
of Adam Naming the Beasts — “And whatever the man
called every living creature [in the garden of Eden], that
was its name.” ~ Genesis 2:19)
We continue to look at the four kinds of love, still focusing on storge or family love in particular. Having featured the affection of fathers, we go on to mothers.
We begin with the first human being to become a mother. As the story is told in Genesis, Eve gave birth to Cain, her first-born, after she and Adam were banished from Paradise for disobeying God — but Cain would later kill his younger brother Abel.
Life on earth now admits sin and pain and suffering.
The voice of one Jewish matriarch cries out in great mourning.
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are not.
~ Jeremiah 31:15
Of course she never was a child herself,
waking as she did one morning
full grown and perfect,
with only Adam, another innocent,
to love her and instruct.
There was no learning, step by step,
to walk, no bruised elbows or knees —
no small transgressions.
There was only the round, white mound
of the moon rising,
which could neither be suckled
nor leaned against.
And perhaps the serpent spoke
in a woman’s voice, mothering.
Oh, who can blame her?
When she held her own child
in her arms, what did she make
of that new animal? Did she love Cain
too little or too much, looking down
at her now flawed body as if her rib,
like Adam’s, might be gone?
In the litany of naming that continued
for children instead of plants,
no daughter is mentioned.
But generations later there was Rachel,
all mother herself, who knew
that bringing forth a child in pain
is only the start. It is losing them
(and Benjamin so young)
that is the punishment.
~ Linda Pastan, born 1932, American poet
Monday, June 20, 2011
(Reflections by Frieda Hughes, born 1960, English poet
Frieda Hughes is the daughter of the poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. In this poem, her father marvels at little Frieda’s joy at the sudden appearance of the moon over the farmyard.
FULL MOON AND LITTLE FRIEDA
A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark
and the clank of a bucket —
And you listening
A spider’s web, tense for the dew’s touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming — mirror
To tempt a first star to a tremor.
Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the
hedges with their warm wreaths of breath —
A dark river of blood, many boulders,
Balancing unspilled milk.
“Moon!” you cry suddenly, “Moon! Moon!”
The moon has stepped back like an artist
gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.
~ Ted Hughes (1930-1998), English poet, editor and writer of essays and many children's books, including his guide to listening and writing, Poetry in the Making, and poet laureate from 1984 to 1998
Sunday, June 19, 2011
(Young sharecropper and his first child, Hillside
Farm, Person County, North Carolina, 1939 by
Dorothea Lange, 1895-1965, American photographer)
Today we are celebrating Father’s Day.
The memory of my father is wrapped up in
white paper, like sandwiches taken for a day at work.
Just as a magician takes flowers and rabbits
out of his hat, he drew love from his small body,
and the rivers of his hands
overflowed with good deeds.
~ Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), Israeli poet
Saturday, June 18, 2011
(Roses Catalog, American, found at
When a stranger shows us selfless generosity, we recognize it as a sacrifice. When selfless generosity comes from a parent, we simply take it as a part of love.
Mom told Dad I wanted to go to college.
We didn’t have money for school.
Dad pulled out the blue pin-striped suit
that he saved for special good times,
looked it over, fondled the jacket, took the suit
to Lewis’s, the pawnshop on Gratiot.
~ Murray Jackson (1926-2002), American poet
Friday, June 17, 2011
(A Letter from His Father by Joseph Bail,
1862-1921, French painter)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran minister and theologian in Nazi Germany. He was a pacifist but after a long and serious examination of his conscience, he decided the regime was so evil that he would join a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.
Arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo, Bonhoeffer spent months in solitary confinement. He was hanged in 1945, only weeks before the end of the War in Europe. He was 39 years old.
Dietrich had a great teacher in his father. Karl Bonhoeffer was a noted psychiatrist who possessed a “great tolerance that left no room for narrow-mindedness and broadened the horizons of our home,” wrote Sabine, Dietrich’s twin sister. “He took it for granted that we would try to do what was right and expected much from us, but we could always count on his kindness and the fairness of his judgment.” ~ Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.
More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.
My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.
~ William Stafford (1914-1993), appointed U.S. poet laureate 1970-1971
Thursday, June 16, 2011
(Girl Reading, 1828, by Gustav Henning,
1797-1869, German artist)
One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters. ~ Seventeenth-century English proverb
TO A CHILD
My fairest child, I have no song to sing thee;
No lark could pipe in skies so dull and gray;
Yet, if thou wilt, one lesson I will give thee
For every day.
Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever;
Do lovely things, not dream them, all day long;
And so make Life, Death, and that vast For Ever
One grand sweet song.
~ Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), English poet, novelist, and historian
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
(Ambulatory, Chapel, and Stained Glass Windows,
Chartres Cathedral, France, photo by QT Luong, found
On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his priestly ordination, Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) wrote about his gratitude to his father:
“I had not yet made my First Holy Communion when I lost my mother: I was barely nine years old. . . . I was left alone with my father, a deeply religious man. Day after day I was able to observe the austere way in which he lived. By profession he was a soldier and, after my mother’s death, his life became one of constant prayer. Sometimes I would wake up during the night and find my father on his knees, just as I would always see him kneeling in the parish church. We never spoke about a vocation to the priesthood, but his example was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary.” ~ John Paul II, Gift and Mystery
O sweet master, with how much peace
Your serene wisdom fills the heart!
I love you, I am in your power
Even though I will never see your face.
Your ashes have long been scattered,
Your sins and follies no one remembers.
And for ages you will remain perfect
Like your book drawn by thought from nothingness.
You knew bitterness and you knew doubt
But the memory of your faults has vanished.
And I know why I cherish you today:
Men are small but their works are great.
~ Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004), Polish poet, essayist, and translator, and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
(The Whittling Boy by Winslow Homer, 1836-1910,
What was true a thousand years ago still applies today. We all want the best for our children.
ON THE BIRTH OF HIS SON
Families, when a child is born,
Want it to be intelligent.
I, through intelligence,
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.
Then he will crown a tranquil life
By becoming a Cabinet Minister.
~ Su Tung-p'o, also known as Su Shi (1037-1101), Chinese poet and satirist
Monday, June 13, 2011
(Head of a Child by Paul Klee, 1879-1940,
Our affection for our young springs from the mystery of our creation.
Where did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into the here.
Where did you get your eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.
What makes the light in them sparkle and spin?
Some of the starry spikes left in.
Where did you get that little tear?
I found it waiting when I got here.
What makes your forehead so smooth and high?
A soft hand stroked it as I went by.
What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
Something better than any one knows.
Whence that three-cornered smile of bliss?
Three angels gave me at once a kiss.
Where did you get that pearly ear?
God spoke, and it came out to hear.
Where did you get those arms and hands?
Love made itself into hooks and bands.
Feet, whence did you come, you darling things?
From the same box as the cherubs’ wings.
How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.
But how did you come to us, you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.
~ George MacDonald (1824-1905), Scottish poet
Sunday, June 12, 2011
(Sleepy Baby by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926,
American painter and printmaker)
For those so inclined, the theory of evolution offers an explanation for our affection for children.
In his book The Panda’s Thumb, the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) discusses the features that make babies look “cute and friendly.” He points to the work of Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), the Austrian zoologist who studied animal behavior and its application to an understanding of human behavior.
“In one of his most famous articles,” writes Gould, “Konrad Lorenz argues that humans use the characteristic differences in form between babies and adults as important behavioral cues. He believes that features of juveniles trigger ‘innate releasing mechanisms’ for affection and nurturing in adult humans. When we see a living creature with babyish features, we feel an automatic surge of disarming tenderness. The adaptive value of this response can scarcely be questioned, for we must nurture our babies.”
Lorenz lists among his so-called “releasers” the following features of babyhood: “a relatively large head, predominance of the brain capsule, large and low-lying eyes, bulging cheek region, short and thick extremities, a springy elastic consistency, and clumsy movements.”
“Our affectionate response to babyish features,” according to Lorenz, “is truly innate and inherited directly from our ancestral primates.”
The poet, on the other hand, takes a different approach. He has been looking into what makes us love the loveable.
Whose work is the more realistic study?
A baby’s feet, like sea-shells pink,
Might tempt, should Heaven see meet,
An angel’s lips to kiss, we think,
A baby’s feet.
Like rose-hued sea-flowers toward the heat
They stretch and spread and wink
Their ten soft buds that part and meet.
No flower-bells that expand and shrink
Gleam half so heavenly sweet
As shine on life’s untrodden brink
A baby's feet.
A baby’s hands, like rosebuds furled,
Whence yet no leaf expands,
Ope if you touch, though close upcurled,
A baby’s hands.
Then, even as warriors grip their brands
When battle’s bolt is hurled,
They close, clenched hard like tightening bands.
No rosebuds yet by dawn impearled
Match, even in loveliest lands,
The sweetest flowers in all the world —
A baby's hands.
A baby’s eyes, ere speech begin,
Ere lips learn words or sighs,
Bless all things bright enough to win
A baby’s eyes.
Love, while the sweet thing laughs and lies,
And sleep flows out and in,
Sees perfect in them Paradise.
Their glance might cast out pain and sin,
Their speech make dumb the wise,
By mute glad godhead felt within
A baby’s eyes.
~ Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), English lyric poet
Saturday, June 11, 2011
(Camera in Landscape by André Kertész, 1894-1985,
“[In the beginning,] the photographer was thought to be an acute but non-interfering observer — a scribe, not a poet. But as people quickly discovered that nobody takes the same picture of the same things, the supposition that cameras furnish an impersonal, objective image yielded to the fact that photographs are evidence not only of what’s there but of what an individual sees, not just a record but an evaluation of the world.” ~ Susan Sontag, On Photography
Yes, this family portrait
is a little dusty.
The father’s face doesn’t show
how much money he earned.
The uncles’ hands don’t reveal
the voyages both of them made.
The grandmother’s smoothed and yellowed;
she’s forgotten the monarchy.
The children, how they’ve changed.
Peter’s face is tranquil,
that wore the best dreams.
And John’s no longer a liar.
The garden’s become fantastic.
The flowers are gray badges.
And the sand, beneath dead feet,
is an ocean of fog.
In the semicircle of armchairs
a certain movement is noticed.
The children are changing places,
but noiselessly! it’s a picture.
Twenty years is a long time.
It can form any image.
If one face starts to wither,
another presents itself, smiling.
All these seated strangers,
my relations? I don’t believe it.
They’re guests amusing themselves
in a rarely-opened parlor.
Family features remain
lost in the play of bodies.
But there’s enough to suggest
that a body is full of surprises.
The frame of this family portrait
holds its personages in vain.
They’re there voluntarily,
they’d know how — if need be — to fly.
They could confine themselves
in the room’s chiaroscuro¹,
live inside the furniture
or the pockets of old waistcoats.
The house has many drawers,
papers, long staircases.
When matter becomes annoyed,
who knows the malice of things?
The portrait does not reply,
it stares; in my dusty eyes
it contemplates itself.
The living and dead relations
multiply in the glass.
I don’t distinguish those
that went away from those
that stay. I only perceive
the strange idea of family
traveling through the flesh.
~ Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987), Brazilian poet
¹ chiaroscuro — interplay of light and shadow
Friday, June 10, 2011
(Celebration Cakes by Wayne Thiebaud,
born 1920, American artist)
Love or affection has its beginnings in the family, where it flourishes in the details.
NOTHING IS LOST
Deep in our subconscious, we are told,
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, outmoded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy,
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.
~ Noël Coward (1899-1973), English composer, playwright, actor, and singer
Thursday, June 9, 2011
(Mary Casey is my name and with
my needle wrought, silk on linen
needlework sample, believed to be
from Newport, Rhode Island, circa
Our present is informed by many things, including our own past and the past of our family over many generations.
“A man’s Self is the sum total of all the he can call his,” wrote William James, “not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank account.” ~ from The Principles of Psychology
I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance — that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die.
~ Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), English novelist and poet
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
(Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt, 1862-1918,
Austrian Symbolist painter)
How fortunate we are, to have been invited into the human family.
AMONG THE MULTITUDES
I am who I am.
A coincidence no less unthinkable
than any other.
I could have different
ancestors, after all.
I could have fluttered
from another nest
or crawled bescaled
from another tree.
holds a fair
supply of costumes:
Spider, seagull, field mouse.
Each fits perfectly right off
and is dutifully worn
I didn’t get a choice either,
but I can’t complain.
I could have been someone
much less separate.
Someone from an anthill, shoal, or buzzing swarm,
an inch of landscape ruffled by the wind.
Someone much less fortunate,
bred for my fur
or Christmas dinner,
something swimming under a square of glass.
A tree rooted to the ground
as the fire draws near.
A grass blade trampled by a stampede
of incomprehensible events.
A shady type whose darkness
What if I’d prompted only fear,
If I’d been born
in the wrong tribe
with all roads closed before me?
Fate has been kind
to me thus far.
I might never have been given
the memory of happy moments.
My yen for comparison
might have been taken away.
I might have been myself minus amazement,
someone completely different.
~ Wislawa Szymborska, born 1923, Polish poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
(Illustration by B. T. B., or Basil T. Blackwood, from Cautionary Tales for Children by Hilaire Belloc)
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), was a French-born poet, essayist, and historian who became a naturalized British citizen and even served as a Member of Parliament for five years.
His cautionary verse about Alexander Byng’s sister shows us how affection for our siblings can at times make us a bit too indulgent towards them.
SARAH BYNG, WHO COULD NOT READ AND WAS TOSSED INTO A THORNY HEDGE BY A BULL
Some years ago you heard me sing
My doubts on Alexander Byng.
His sister Sarah now inspires
My jaded Muse, my failing fires.
Of Sarah Byng the tale is told
How when the child was twelve years old
She could not read or write a line.
Her sister Jane, though barely nine,
Could spout the Catechism through
And parts of Matthew Arnold too,
While little Bill who came between
Was quite unnaturally keen
On “Athalie,” by Jean Racine.
But not so Sarah! Not so Sal!
She was a most uncultured girl
Who didn’t care a pinch of snuff
For any literary stuff
And gave the classics all a miss.
Observe the consequence of this!
As she was walking home one day,
Upon the fields across her way
A gate, securely padlocked, stood,
And by its side a piece of wood
On which was painted plain and full,
BEWARE THE VERY FURIOUS BULL.
Alas! The young illiterate
Went blindly forward to her fate,
And ignorantly climbed the gate!
Now happily the Bull that day
Was rather in the mood for play
Than goring people through and through
As Bulls so very often do;
He tossed her lightly with his horns
Into a prickly hedge of thorns,
And stood by laughing while she strode
And pushed and struggled to the road.
The lesson was not lost upon
The child, who since has always gone
A long way round to keep away
From signs, whatever they may say,
And leaves a padlocked gate alone.
Moreover she has wisely grown
Confirmed in her instinctive guess
That literature breeds distress.
Monday, June 6, 2011
(Staircase at Rue Vilin, Belleville,
1959 by Willy Ronis, 1910-2009,
“Affection would not be affection,” wrote C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves, “if it was loudly and frequently expressed . . . It lives with humble, un-dress, private things; soft slippers, old clothes, old jokes, the thump of a sleepy dog’s tail on the kitchen floor.”
speech: the un-
wiser than our
to say, to find
in the mind's hoard
praise that reveals
and not diminished
in the telling —
in the silences
between speech and halt
a gift of tongues
that words bear
to what we hear
chiefly in silence
before and after
speech now, as
whiten the space
~ Daniel Hoffman, born 1923, American poet and essayist
Sunday, June 5, 2011
(Mattie Stepanek, 1990-2004, and his mother Jeni)
Love begets love.
The young poet Mattie Stepanek understood that.
Mattie had a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which had killed his two brothers and his sister. He began to write when he was only three years old, going on to publish six volumes of poems and one of prose to great acclaim. In those books, he put into words a remarkably cheerful and joyous view of life. He celebrated the power of love. And he faced his imminent death with startling honesty and frankness.
CIRCLE OF HAPPINESS
I am a little kid
For you to love.
I am a little kid
For you to hug and kiss.
I am a little kid
For you to say,
“You are so special,
Yes you are” to.
I am a little kid
For all of those things
And when you
Feel and say and do
All of those things,
I will be a little kid
Who will hug and kiss you.
I will be a little kid
Who will say to you,
“You are so special, too,
Yes you are.”
I will be a little kid
Who will do all of those things
And that is what
Is all about.
~ Mattie J. T. Stepanek, from his book Heartsongs
Saturday, June 4, 2011
(Mother and Child by Margaret Uyauperq
Aniksak, 1905-1993, Canadian Inuit artist)
This poem expresses a mother’s boundless love and great expectations for her child yet unborn.
TO A LITTLE INVISIBLE BEING WHO IS EXPECTED SOON TO BECOME VISIBLE
Germ of new life, whose powers expanding slow
For many a moon their full perfection wait, —
Haste, precious pledge of happy love, to go
Auspicious borne through life’s mysterious gate.
What powers lie folded in thy curious frame, —
Senses from objects locked, and mind from thought!
How little canst thou guess thy lofty claim
To grasp at all the worlds the Almighty wrought!
And see, the genial season’s warmth to share,
Fresh younglings shoot, and opening roses glow!
Swarms of new life exulting fill the air, —
Haste, infant bud of being, haste to blow!
For thee the nurse prepares her lulling songs,
The eager matrons count the lingering day;
But far the most thy anxious parent longs
On thy soft cheek a mother’s kiss to lay.
She only asks to lay her burden down,
That her glad arms that burden may resume;
And nature’s sharpest pangs her wishes crown,
That free thee living from thy living tomb.
She longs to fold to her maternal breast
Part of herself, yet to herself unknown;
To see and to salute the stranger guest,
Fed with her life through many a tedious moon.
Come, reap thy rich inheritance of love!
Bask in the fondness of a Mother’s eye!
Nor wit nor eloquence her heart shall move
Like the first accents of thy feeble cry.
Haste, little captive, burst thy prison doors!
Launch on the living world, and spring to light!
Nature for thee displays her various stores,
Opens her thousand inlets of delight.
If charmed verse or muttered prayers had power,
With favoring spells to speed thee on thy way,
Anxious I’d bid my beads each passing hour,
Till thy wished smile thy mother’s pangs o’erpay.
~ Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825), one of the English Romantic poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge
Friday, June 3, 2011
(The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt
van Rijn, 1606-1669, Dutch painter, printmaker,
Over the next few days, we will examine the form of love called storge (pronounced stor•gay) or affection for family and kin.
Today’s poem, “The Prodigal Son,” tells of a father’s unconditional love for his son. It was written by John Newton (1725-1807). He is the former slave trader who became famous for “Amazing Grace,” the folk hymn that also examines the nature of forgiveness, his own in this case:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
The poem recounts the story of one of Christ’s best-known parables. The younger of two sons asks his father for the share of his inheritance, only to squander it all on loose living. Humiliated and desperate, he comes crawling back to his family.
THE PRODIGAL SON
Afflictions, though they seem severe;
In mercy oft are sent;
They stopped the prodigal's career,
And forced him to repent.
Although he no relentings felt
Till he had spent his store;
His stubborn heart began to melt
When famine pinched him sore.
What have I gained by sin, he said,
But hunger, shame, and fear;
My father’s house abounds with bread,
While I am starving here.
I’ll go, and tell him all I’ve done,
And fall before his face
Unworthy to be called his son,
I’ll seek a servant’s place.
His father saw him coming back,
He saw, and ran, and smiled;
And threw his arms around the neck
Of his rebellious child.
Father, I’ve sinned — but O forgive!
I’ve heard enough, he said,
Rejoice my house, my son’s alive,
For whom I mourned as dead.
Now let the fatted calf be slain,
And spread the news around;
My son was dead, but lives again,
Was lost, but now is found.
’Tis thus the Lord his love reveals,
To call poor sinners home;
More than a father's love he feels,
And welcomes all that come.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
(The Butterfly by William Kurelek, 1927-1977,
Canadian artist and writer)
The life of Jean Vanier is an example of agape (pronounced ah•gah•pay) or unconditional charity in action.
Born in 1928, Vanier is a Canadian philosopher and theologian. In 1964, he established L’Arche, or “the ark,” an international movement of communities where intellectually disabled persons live and work together with those who take care of them. He travels around the globe to plead for the poor, the lonely, and the handicapped.
“To love people,” wrote Vanier in Becoming Human, “is also to celebrate them . . . . every child, every person, needs to know that they are a source of joy.”
BEING BORN IS IMPORTANT
Being born is important.
You who have stood at the bedposts
and seen a mother on her high harvest day,
the day of the most golden of harvest moons for her.
You who have seen the new wet child
dried behind the ears,
swaddled in soft fresh garments,
pursing its lips and sending a groping mouth
toward the nipples where white milk is ready —
You who have seen this love’s payday
of wild toil and sweet agonizing —
You know being born is important.
You know nothing else was ever so important to you.
You understand the payday of love is so old,
So involved, so traced with circles of the moon,
So cunning with the secrets of the salts of the blood —
It must be older than the moon, older than salt.
~ Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), American poet and writer and biographer of Lincoln
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
(The Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico, 1395?-1455,
Italian Early Renaissance painter)
We begin this month's look at the different forms of love with one of the most thought-provoking statements ever made about love.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells his followers, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and send rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ~ Matthew 5:43-48
The lyrics below tell the true story of a truce between British and German soldiers on the Western Front in 1914. It is told from the perspective of a fictional British soldier.
CHRISTMAS IN THE TRENCHES
Oh, my name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool,
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
From Belgium and to Flanders, Germany to here,
I have fought for King and country I love dear.
’Twas Christmas in the trenches and the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France where still no songs of peace were sung.
Our families back in England were toasting us that day
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.
I was lying with me mess mates on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound.
Says I, Now listen up me boys, each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.
He’s singing bloody well, you know, my partner says to me.
Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony.
The cannons rested silent and the gas cloud rolled no more,
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.
As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent,
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” struck up some lads from Kent.
The next they sang was “Stille Nacht.” ’Tis “Silent Night,” says I,
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
There’s someone coming towards us now, the front line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag like a Christmas Star shone on the plain so bright
As he bravely trudged unarmed into the night.
Then one by one on either side walked in to No Man’s Land
But neither gun nor bayonet, we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well,
And in a flare-lit football game we gave ’em hell.
We traded chocolates and cigarettes and photographs from home,
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Tom Sanders played the squeeze box and they had a violin,
This curious and unlikely band of men.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night,
Whose family have I fixed within my sights?
’Twas Christmas in the trenches and the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed, the songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forever more.
Oh, my name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War I, I’ve learned its lessons well,
For the one who calls the shots won’t be among the dead and lame,
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.
~ John McCutcheon, born 1952, American singer, musician, and composer
To listen to a performance by the Canadian singer John McDermott, an original member of The Irish Tenors, click on this link (you may have to cut and paste):