Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Americans”

NPM: #21–wind of change


There is that time of year when the snows have lingered much too long and spring is ready to arrive, yet winter stubbornly refuses its hold. Then comes that zephyr breeze, the Chinook, that warming wind that hints the good times of summer are ever nearer. The warm wind teases the remaining snowdrifts to melt and feed the hiding narcissus. Robert Frost knew exactly that moment when the warm winds bring the change oh so needed.

To the Thawing Wind

Robert Frost, 18741963

Come with rain, O loud Southwester!
Bring the singer, bring the nester;
Give the buried flower a dream;
Make the settled snowbank steam;
Find the brown beneath the white;
But whate’er you do tonight,
Bathe my window, make it flow,
Melt it as the ice will go;
Melt the glass and leave the sticks
Like a hermit’s crucifix;
Burst into my narrow stall;
Swing the picture on the wall;
Run the rattling pages o’er;
Scatter poems on the floor;
Turn the poet out of door.

NPM: #19–morning splendor


A Gift

Leonora Speyer (1872-1956)

I Woke: —
Night, lingering, poured upon the world
Of drowsy hill and wood and lake
Her moon-song,
And the breeze accompanied with hushed fingers
On the birches.

Gently the dawn held out to me
A golden handful of bird’s-notes.

 

There are so many lovely images resounding throughout. I envision summer–standing on a hill overlooking a grassy meadow, the sun slowly cresting the horizon and in that crystalline moment a trill of robin song adds to the joy of another morning, another day of promise.

NPM: #17–Willow tree


Willow Poem

William Carlos Williams, 18831963

It is a willow when summer is over,
a willow by the river
from which no leaf has fallen nor
bitten by the sun
turned orange or crimson.
The leaves cling and grow paler,
swing and grow paler
over the swirling waters of the river
as if loath to let go,
they are so cool, so drunk with
the swirl of the wind and of the river—
oblivious to winter,
the last to let go and fall
into the water and on the ground.

I grew up with a willow tree in our backyard. I always seemed a sad tree to me, weeping its leaves into our fish pond. I hadn’t thought about that tree until coming across Williams’ poem. Odd. Those willow leaves, as I recall, didn’t succumb to the “kiss of the sun” and fade away into autumn and winter as our maple did so stoically.

a sad dipping into the water–is this what inspired Williams? image: MorgueFile/LoneAngel

 

NPM: #15–Longfellow’s Children


“The Children’s Hour” was first published in the September 1860 edition of The Atlantic Monthly.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was probably one of the first poets encountered as a child. Who hasn’t encountered his “Song of Hiawatha?” He is well known for many poems, and one of my favorites is his tribute to his children. I can imagine his little “banditti” sneaking up on him and him gathering them up all shrieks and giggles.

The Children’s Hour

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 18071882
Between the dark and the daylight,
   When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
   That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
   The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
   And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
   Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
   And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
   Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
   To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
   A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
   They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
   O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
   They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
   Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
   In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
   Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
   Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
   And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
   In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
   Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
   And moulder in dust away!

NPM: #12–a love poem


Love

William Carlos Williams, 18831963

Love is twain, it is not single,
Gold and silver mixed to one,
Passion ‘tis and pain which mingle
Glist’ring then for aye undone.

Pain it is not; wondering pity
Dies or e’er the pang is fled;
Passion ‘tis not, foul and gritty,
Born one instant, instant dead.

Love is twain, it is not single,
Gold and silver mixed to one,
Passion ‘tis and pain which mingle
Glist’ring then for aye undone.

I first met William Carlos Williams whilst learning how ill-equipped I was to be in the Masters in the Teaching of writing program at Humboldt. I was quite illiterate when it came to poetry and the classics. My writing wasn’t up to snuff either. I even had a professor tersely whisper in my ear how I got in the program. The moment of crisis eventually passed once I gained understanding that poems weren’t really some mysterious language dropped out of the sky for mortals to puzzle over. Dr. Williams lent his red wheelbarrow to me one day, and I began to relax and realize that poetry was simply another way of listening to the heart.

NPM #10: Emily and the sun


Emily Dickinson

National Poetry Month wouldn’t be the same without a guest appearance from Emily. Image: Academy of American Poets

A Day

Emily Dickinson, 18301886

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, —
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

It will no doubt take a lifetime to read and appreciate Emily D’s some 1000+ poems. I do so delight in finding one I haven’t seen before. How does she devise these slips of images that dazzle to the point of pause? What’s interesting to me is that she didn’t capitalize “sun” although she personified it, which did have a penchant for doing.

Have you a favorite Emily? Please share. Maybe I am not aware of it yet and I would like to make its acquaintance.

NPM: #9–Wordsworth praises snow drops


On Seeing a Tuft of Snowdrops in a Storm

William Wordsworth, 17701850

When haughty expectations prostrate lie,
And grandeur crouches like a guilty thing,
Oft shall the lowly weak, till nature bring
Mature release, in fair society
Survive, and Fortune’s utmost anger try;
Like these frail snow-drops that together cling,
And nod their helmets smitten by the wing
Of many a furious whirlblast sweeping by.
Observe the faithful flowers! if small to great
May lead the thoughts, thus struggling used to stand
The Emathian phalanx, nobly obstinate;
And so the bright immortal Theban band,
Whom onset, fiercely urged at Jove’s command,
Might overwhelm, but could not separate!

We all know Wordsworth penchant for daffodils. They are the poster child for spring in my book. Then again, this poem of his extolling the strength of snow-drops has me thinking of how fragile something can appear, yet have a rooted strength unseen. I will have to pay more attention to my snow-drops. I also need to scamper to my allusions dictionary and look up Emathian and Jove. That Wordsworth–he tends to keep me on my toes.

image: OldGreySeaWolf/MorgueFile

NPM: #7–life is a mystery


Life

Henrietta Cordelia Ray (1849-1917)

Life! Ay, what is it? E’en a moment spun
    From cycles of eternity. And yet,
    What wrestling ’mid the fever and the fret
Of tangled purposes and hopes undone!
What affluence of love! What vict’ries won
    In agonies of silence, ere trust met
    A manifold fulfillment, and the wet,
Beseeching eyes saw splendors past the sun!
What struggle in the web of circumstance,
    And yearning in the wingèd music! All,
        One restless strife from fetters to be free;
Till, gathered to eternity’s expanse,
    Is that brief moment at the Father’s call.
        Life! Ay, at best, ’tis but a mystery!

I usually shy away from poems exclaiming exclamation marks. Yet, I am caught up in the imagery of the lines “tangled purposes”, “splendors past the sun”, “web of circumstance”. Plus, this type of poetry fits the time period, because as a future songwriter trebled out the “times they were a changing.”

In the poet notes I saw that in 1876 Ray’s poem “Lincoln” was read at the unveiling of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, which indicates a tribute and an honor to both Ray and Lincoln.

 

image: Savanne/Morguefile

NPM: #2–Wonder and Joy


image: flickr.com

Wonder and Joy

Robinson Jeffers, 18871962

The things that one grows tired of—O, be sure
They are only foolish artificial things!
Can a bird ever tire of having wings?
And I, so long as life and sense endure,
(Or brief be they!) shall nevermore inure
My heart to the recurrence of the springs,
Of gray dawns, the gracious evenings,
The infinite wheeling stars. A wonder pure
Must ever well within me to behold
Venus decline; or great Orion, whose belt
Is studded with three nails of burning gold,
Ascend the winter heaven. Who never felt
This wondering joy may yet be good or great:
But envy him not: he is not fortunate.

 

This particular poet focused his poetry around the Big Sur area. It would be easy to be inspired living in that region!

My fave stand out lines: “Of gray dawns, the gracious evenings…”

I do so appreciate the balance of these two images and the art of alliteration.

Author Snapshot: Lois Lowry


Sometimes a novel is similar to a wave in how its impact builds momentum, breaks, recedes, and begins the cycle all over again. The Giver by Lois Lowry is such a book. First published in 1993 it pushed societal paradigms, gathered a following, and is once again building another following due to the film adaptation. It’s still considered controversial some twenty years later. The story is deceptively simple, yet profound in its impact. There are so many issues presented: government control, euthanasia, loss of innocence, and dystopia versus utopia. Lowry presents these heavy issues with a light hand and leaves reader with hope in its ambiguous ending. It deservedly won the prestigious Newberry Award.

For many years The Giver remained a standalone title. And then Gathering Blue came out in 2000; however, it wasn’t a true continuation of The Giver and frustrated many readers looking for answers, because it teased a bit, alluding only slightly to Jonas’s world. Readers had to wait until 2004 for Messenger, which served as a bridge between The Giver and Gathering Blue. Alas, answers still weren’t totally available and finally in 2012 closure arrived with Son.

Having read The Giver when it first came out, I was impressed with its message, although a bit dissatisfied with its ambiguity at the end. “That’s it?!?” I felt like shaking the book to see if I could render out the last drop, maybe find the missing resolution or at least find a denouement of sorts. I wasn’t aware of the succeeding books that formed the quartet and had the distinctive pleasure of reading the quartet in succession after watching the 2014 film adaptation of The Giver. Due to the sizable waiting list for The Giver (could it be the movie stirred people to seek out the original?) I began reading the other three and saved The Giver for last. Glad I did so, because the library (love my library) bought the newest edition, which is a twenty year celebration of the novel, and it contains an introduction, a reflection, by Lois Lowry. Her humor and unique outlook is prevalent and added a dimension to the reading I wouldn’t have probably gained reading the standard paperback issue. A bonus section (special features?) included interviews of different actors from the movie including Taylor Swift.

Yet, there is more to Lois Lowry than The Giver. Her talent extends to comical middle reading found in the Krupnik series which is about the plucky Anastasia and her rascally brother Sam. Another notable book, her first Newberry Award, is Number the Stars, which covers the Danish Resistance in WWII. Lowry’s diversity is evident when scrolling through her impressive book list of thirty plus titles which range from picture books to historical fiction, and include young adult reads. I have been exploring other Lowry titles and I am amazed by her diversity. For instance, I just finished an audio reading of  Silent Boy, which reminds me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird recalling her childhood memories from an adult perspective. Another audio novel, The Willoughbys is radically different from any of her other works. This a parody of all those long ago old-fashioned tales starring orphans who make good after much travail. Think Lemony Snicket meets Pollyana. The reading was enhanced by the reading talents of Arte Johnson, best remembered by his Laugh In days. The humor varies between lampoon and subtle, the vocabulary rivals SAT prep exercises, and there is a constant anticipation of “What next?” right up there with “This is a kid’s book?”
Lowry is one of those authors who provides the reason why adults peruse the kids’ section when searching for a good read.

Interesting bits about Lois Lowry:

  • she’s been a contestant on Jeopardy
  • traveled to Antarctica
  • had The Giver turned into a play, opera, film, and musical
  • she’s been a clue in a New York Times crossword puzzle
  • has owned numerous dogs, cats, and horses
  • has a great little author website

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