November 20, 2015

And with the final poem found on my thankful banner, we bid adieu to the lovely poems of autumn, as winter is scheduled to arrive later today!  William Blake's To Autumn personifies autumn as a newborn, the offspring of summer.  The poet invites the season to recount the glories of its maternal summer--the lusty songs of fruits and flowers. But even though young, autumn's time is fleeting and as winter approaches the beautiful season of fruit and grape must prepare for the arrival of winter, fleeing over the bleak hills and out of sight. 

Oh Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.
“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hand round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.
“The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

My garden sang this song all summer...while feather'd clouds strew flowers round her head.

but oh, what a difference a few weeks can make, as autumn prepares to flee!

While I was putting these pictures together, taken in July and again in November, Robert Frost's poem My November Guest came to mind and seemed apropos...

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
     Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
     She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
     She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
     Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
     The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
     And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
     The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
     And they are better for her praise.

The very last rose of "summer"...November 2015

But even as autumn's breezes turn into wintry gales later this afternoon, I remain thankful for all my blessings!  And please remember...

Today is a good day for a good day!

November 18, 2015

...will lead my steps aright

“November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year,” said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frostbitten garden.  (Louisa May Alcott, Little Women)
View of my backyard this morning from my bedroom window...

Blech.  I think I'll let the picture speak for's definitely the type of morning where I'd rather still be in bed!  But I was able to eventually crawl out from under the warm comforter and face the day, thanks to a nice hot cup of coffee and a cheerful phone conversation with my daughter!  Hearing a loved one's voice is a perfect start to the day--it even makes the cold rain more bearable.  

I was also eager to get up and share this story with you today about my recent visit to my uncle's home in Indiana--I love it when a story goes full circle.

 My grandparents with my Uncle Phil

While we were visiting with my aunt and uncle I was recalling some of my favorite memories of my grandmother, and how I loved listening to her recite a poem that fit the day or mood.  I was so impressed with how many beautiful poems she had memorized and could recite at the drop of a hat.  My uncle laughed and told the story of how he expressed his frustration over his studies one day, confessing to her that he was struggling to memorize all the lines of the poem To a Waterfowl.  My uncle recalled that my grandmother looked at him, smiled, and then recited the whole poem on the spot.  The cool thing uncle was then able to recite the poem to me.  No wonder I love poetry so much! 

 My grandmother with my Uncle Phil and Aunt Freda on their wedding day--I'm sure she had a special poem ready!

But of course the story doesn't end with my uncle's recitation--impressive as that was.  No, in a beautifully serendipitous circle when I returned home and decided to blog about the poems I chose for my thankful banner I took another look at the "u" page, which I had chosen because it had Thanatopsis on it, my grandmother's favorite poem.  But wait...what poem was printed just above Thanatopsis, also penned by William Cullen Bryant??  You guessed it, and here it is for you today.  Sometimes, even in spite of raindrops and gloomy weather, life is just about perfect.

To a Waterfowl

   Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
   Thy solitary way?

   Vainly the fowler’s eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
   Thy figure floats along.

   Seek’st thou the plashy brink
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
   On the chafed ocean side?

   There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,--
The desert and illimitable air,--
   Lone wandering, but not lost.

   All day thy wings have fanned,
At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
   Though the dark night is near.

   And soon that toil shall end;
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,
   Soon, o’er thy sheltered nest.

   Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
   And shall not soon depart.

   He who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
   Will lead my steps aright.

November 17, 2015

so live...sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust

Sometimes, when the world has seemed to go to pieces and inexplicable tragedy and horror befalls innocent people, I grapple with what to write.  What could I possibly say that hasn't already been voiced, in words far more eloquent and resonant than mine? At the end of the day I can only offer up a prayer that those who have lost can find consolation, that those who witnessed the horror can find the strength to move past it and not let it define the rest of their lives, that those who continue to live in turmoil and fear can hang on and trust that there are good people in the world, people who fight tirelessly for peace.  

Today I am thankful for the German musician who understood the healing power of music.  Traveling four hundred miles from his home to Paris he set up his portable piano and played John Lennon's Imagine for the crowd.

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

And in the midst of all this terror and grief, I hope we can find time to reflect on all the things we have to be thankful about this season--our homes, our families, all the blessings that fill our hearts and our homes with love.  We're almost through the thankful banner, and today's poem is found on the letter "u".  It happens to have been my grandmother's favorite poem, and now that I am a grandmother myself I understand the power and beauty of a grandmother's love.  She taught farm children Latin and calculus in an Indiana one room schoolhouse, and inspired us all with her love of poetry and recitation.  Every time I enjoy a poem or hear one of my children recite, I am filled with gratitude for the gifts she bestowed upon us.  

This poem seems so appropriate today, after the horrors of the last week.  Go forth, under the open sky, and list to Nature's teachings... Let us take Bryant's counsel and live our lives with good intent and purpose.  

~~William Cullen Bryant

     To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts   
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight   
Over thy spirit, and sad images   
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,   
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,   
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—   
Go forth, under the open sky, and list   
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—
                                       Yet a few days, and thee   
The all-beholding sun shall see no more   
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,   
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,   
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist   
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim   
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up   
Thine individual being, shalt thou go   
To mix for ever with the elements,   
To be a brother to the insensible rock   
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain   
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak   
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.  
     Yet not to thine eternal resting-place   
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish   
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down   
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,   
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,  
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,   
All in one mighty sepulchre.   The hills   
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales   
Stretching in pensive quietness between;   
The venerable woods—rivers that move   
In majesty, and the complaining brooks   
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,   
Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—   
Are but the solemn decorations all   
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,   
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,   
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,   
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread   
The globe are but a handful to the tribes   
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings   
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,   
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods   
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,   
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:   
And millions in those solitudes, since first   
The flight of years began, have laid them down   
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw   
In silence from the living, and no friend   
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe   
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care   
Plod on, and each one as before will chase   
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave   
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train   
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,   
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes   
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,   
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man— 
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,   
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.  
     So live, that when thy summons comes to join   
The innumerable caravan, which moves   
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take   
His chamber in the silent halls of death,   
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,   
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed   
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,   
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch   
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

My thoughts and prayers are with those who are victims of senseless terrorism.
May I never lose my sense of gratitude for the things I sometimes take for gratitude--for the opportunity to let my family and friends know how much I love them today, and always.

Today is a good day for a good day.

November 11, 2015

and the night shall be filled with music

(I wrote this blog last night, but since I am up at 4:30 am (why?why?why?) it seems extra fitting--it won't be light for at least another hour!  I am thankful for many things, but right now I would have been extra thankful for a few more hours of sleep...).  Also---I couldn't fix all my formatting problems with this post!  No matter how many times I adjusted line spacing and text size some of the post was just not cooperating, so my motto for today is progress, not perfection..

As we continue working our way through the poems on the thankful banner in my dining room, the letter "f" today is offering not one but two poems which seem pretty darn appropriate at the moment.  While I might enjoy a little more sunshine as I get ready for work in the morning, I'll confess I don't find much to revel in as I exit my work garage at the end of the day only to meet darkness. The clock may read 5:15 pm, but my inner clock is clamoring for comfort food (meatloaf and mashed potatoes, anyone?), comfy pajamas and a book to crawl into bed with!  But if the night comes too quickly, at least having Longfellow around makes it a little easier!

Henry's first poem (I've read his work for so many years that surely we're on a first name basis by now!), Day is Done, was written in 1844 as a preface to an anthology of poems called The Waif.  Longfellow selected his favorite poems by other writers and compiled them into this book, adding this particular poem as an introduction.  I think one of the things I love most about Longfellow's work is that he wanted poetry to be part of our everyday lives--poems don't have to be so complex and fraught with meanings that the average reader can't figure out what they mean.  He wrote poems that you could memorize because of the lovely language and rhythm, poems that could bring you comfort at the end of the day.  Poems that could lighten the heaviness of the world.

Day is Done
The day is done, and the darkness
      Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
      From an eagle in his flight. 

I see the lights of the village
      Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
      That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
      That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
      As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
      Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
      And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters,
      Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
      Through the corridors of Time. 

For, like strains of martial music,
      Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
      And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
      Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
      Or tears from the eyelids start; 

Who, through long days of labor,
      And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
      Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
      The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
      That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume

      The poem of thy choice,

And lend to the rhyme of the poet

      The beauty of thy voice. 

And the night shall be filled with music,

      And the cares, that infest the day,

Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,

      And as silently steal away.

    Over the weekend I had the chance to see the 75th anniversary movie of Disney's Fantasia on big screen.  It was so enjoyable listening to some of my very favorite pieces, with the remarkable and visionary animation that brings the music to life. I found it astonishing to think how all that art work was created 75 years ago...long before computers!  Every time I watch the last segment of the movie where the pulsing, whirling music of Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain gives way to Schubert's plaintive Ave Maria, I always think of the last lines of Day is Done.  ...and the cares that infest the day...(shall) silently steal away.

New Orleans Botanical Garden, November 2014--a grand setting for Longfellow's  
Hymn to the Night

Aspasie, trillistos.
I heard the trailing garments of the Night
      Sweep through her marble halls!
I saw her sable skirts all fringed with light
      From the celestial walls!
I felt her presence, by its spell of might,
      Stoop o'er me from above;
The calm, majestic presence of the Night,
      As of the one I love.
I heard the sounds of sorrow and delight,
      The manifold, soft chimes,
That fill the haunted chambers of the Night,
      Like some old poet's rhymes.
From the cool cisterns of the midnight air
      My spirit drank repose;
The fountain of perpetual peace flows there, —
      From those deep cisterns flows.
O holy Night! from thee I learn to bear
      What man has borne before!
Thou layest thy finger on the lips of Care,
      And they complain no more.
Peace! Peace! Orestes-like I breathe this prayer!
      Descend with broad-winged flight,
The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,
      The best-beloved Night!

All other photos from Door County camping trips

But at the moment, we can't revel in the night music but must greet the day!  I hope your day is blessed with the simple things that bring you comfort and make you smile, and remember..

Today is a good day for a good day! 


November 6, 2015

The letter "K" today is offering us the fall poem, To Autumn, penned by Keats in 1819, only two years before his untimely death. This well loved poem can be found in almost every one of my poetry anthologies, and is regarded by critics as one of the most perfect short poems in the English language.  In a letter to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds written on 21 September, Keats described the impression the scene had made upon him and its influence on the poem's composition..."How beautiful the season is now – How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it [...] I never lik'd stubble fields so much as now [...] Somehow a stubble plain looks warm – in the same way that some pictures look warm – this struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it."

I had fun setting this poem with a few family and vacation photos that capture so perfectly this season of mist and mellow fruitfulness...

New Hampshire lake

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, 
  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 
Apple tree on Robert Frost's New Hampshire farm
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 
 And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
Until they think warm days will never cease, For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

 Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? 
  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, 
  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, 
  Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: 
From left, my great-grandfather Raines, my grandfather Badger and my cousin Byron Raines, 1955
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep 
  Steady thy laden head across a brook; 
  Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
    Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.
My Uncle Lowell, my Aunt Hester and my Uncle Phil--three of my mother's siblings
 Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? 
  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, 
  And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
My grandfather at his home in Indiana
 Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn 
  Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; 
 And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; 
  Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
  The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft, 
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Taken from my bedroom window this morning--a goldfinch enjoying the last of my coneflowers!

 Have a wonderful weekend, and remember...
Today is a good day for a good day!