Category Archives: Poetry

The land where the Jumblies live

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The shelf above the sink in our house is the land where the jumblies live. I collected a whole box of them. Sometimes I wish they would go to sea in a sieve, as in the poem, and let me off putting them away!

When I was younger I took delight in the saying, “A clean desk is the sign of an empty mind.” No more! Now I fervently hope an uncluttered house leads to an uncluttered brain!

A misty, moisty, morning…

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…and cloudy is the weather. I haven’t met an old man, clothed all in leather, but it wouldn’t particularly surprise me if I did.

Last night very late, while everyone was asleep, I padded along through the house to the guest room with the tall windows and looked out. A few windows were open to the sound of frogs and insects making a steady din. I looked at the trees in the mist and thought, oh, I am too busy. So much beauty all around, but I rarely stop to admire it these days.

Now it’s eleven, and full-on busy time. I was on my hands and knees this morning with a tweezers and a box cutting knife, removing straggly bits of wallpaper embedded in tile grout. I remembered a time years ago, pre-babies, when my husband, watching me carefully transfer pasta sauce into a container with a rubber spatula, told me with amusement about something called the law of diminishing returns. I wish I could apply that here, but you can’t just leave wallpaper sticking in grout, can you?

Soon I’ll be done. I resolve to go outside and enjoy the cloudy day. If I see an old man clothed all in leather it will probably be a biker, and I will smile and nod.

Intimations of future laundry

My heart does flips when I behold

The peas and carrots fly:

So was it when I first began;

So is it with each little man;

Shall it be so ’til I grow old?

I heave a sigh!

The Child is father of the Man;

But now, I find my days to be

Filled to the brim with piles of stained laun-der-y.

* * *

Forgive me Mr. Wordsworth, wherever you are. While chatting with my brother on the phone this weekend, I paused to bellow gently at the children: “Stop eating like The Cookie Monster! I am tired of cleaning up the mess!” My brother laughed wickedly; but I forgive him because he has small children too and suffers similar things.

A little Donne

A mural near downtown Asheville NC

A mural near downtown Asheville NC

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp’d town to another due,

Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,

But am betroth’d unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

***

John Donne’s “Batter my heart, three-person’d God” (also known as Holy Sonnet 14) has a vivid central conceit – the soul as a walled city, and the Holy Trinity employing a battering-ram to gain entrance. While my husband and I were on a walk this week we saw the mural above, and it instantly brought the poem to my mind.

Easter poem

Easter Wings

by George Herbert

Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,

Though foolishly he lost the same,

Decaying more and more,

Till he became

Most poore:

With Thee  O let me rise,

As larks, harmoniously,

And sing this day Thy victories:

Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne;

And still with sicknesses and shame

Thou didst so punish sinne,

That I became

Most thinne.

With Thee

Let me combine,

And feel this day Thy victorie;

For, if I imp my wing on Thine,

Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

* * *

Happy Easter!

A little Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold
   A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
   Or let me die!
The Child is father of the man:
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

The final two lines of Wordsworth’s poem kept echoing in my mind during the last few weeks, but I couldn’t remember where they came from. I looked them up, and found this little poem. Wordsworth wrote it, it seems, the day before he began to compose Ode: Intimations of Immortality, a poem which I (and many others) love; and several lines of  My Heart Leaps Up  were at one point printed as an epigraph before it.

“Good” life and “good” death

A depiction of the Battle of Agincourt from the early 15th century (Image Source)

Some months ago I contrasted the outlook of St. Therese of Lisieux, and that of St. Josemaria Escriva – the first with her “Little Way” of childlike trust in God, and the latter with his encouragement to strive (“Esto vir – Be a man!”)

Life is not easy, no matter what your path or state. St. Therese’s way seems attractive – it is attractive. Sometimes I wish God would sweep me up in His arms and clean up my overwhelming messes for me while I sleep. At times He does just this. However, sometimes I find myself wishing life would just stop – that the striving could be done. St. Therese, who endured many pains of body and mind, would not advocate that.

I was reminded this week of King Henry’s St. Crispin’s day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V.

[G]entlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks,
That fought with us upon St. Crispin’s day.

Of all the teeming billions of human beings ever created, just a relative handful of us are here, now, living out our brief span, assailed by “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Life is a battle – but I think we are meant to be in it and not out of it – falling down, and getting up again and again as long as we can, until the end.

Lately many have been reading and thinking about Brittany Maynard, the young American woman who chose euthanasia after receiving a fearful medical diagnosis. It was written of her that she “loved life.” That’s just it though – did she love life (not that that is easy) or a limited part of it? Euthanasia means “good death”. What is a good death? What is a good life?

Can you fight like a soldier but have child-like trust? I think, yes. It’s hard to say which part is more difficult.