There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal
– Gordon George Byron, Lord Byron from Childe Harold, Canto iv, Verse 178
WEDNESDAY WRITING PROMPT
It’s important – and it’s often a relief – to get out in nature where the quiet is healing and the beauty helps us to feel our connection with the whole of the Universe. Byron writes here of the woods. Where do you go for solitude and solice, refreshing your soul? Woods. Garden, Lake. Ocean. Wilderness lands. Perhaps a park like the one in the photograph above. Tell us about it and how you feel, how it draws you in and wakes you up spiritually. Do it by way of poetry or creative nonfiction. May this be a meditative exercise for you.
A version of this post that I put together several years ago and published elsewhere keeps coming up in the stats for that site, a few people each week popping by to read it … and so I read the poems again myself. Seems we have to learn the same lessons over and over. What Sorely writes still applies …
SUCH, SUCH IS DEATH (1915)
Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat:
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,
A merciful putting away of what has been.
And this we know: Death is not Life, effete,
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen
So marvellous things know well the end not yet.
Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say,
“Come, what was your record when you drew breath?”
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.
TO GERMANY (1914)
You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,
And no man claimed the conquest of your land.
But gropers both through fields of thought confined
We stumble and we do not understand.
You only saw your future bigly planned,
And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,
And in each other’s dearest ways we stand,
And hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind.
When it is peace, then we may view again
With new-won eyes each other’s truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving-kind and warm
We’ll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm
The darkness and the thunder and the rain.
– Charles Hamilton Sorely
Charles Hamilton Sorley was born in Aberdeen in 1894. He was the son of a professor of moral philosophy at Aberdeen University. When the First World War was declared in August 1914, Sorley enlisted in the British Army. He joined the Suffolk Regiment and after several months training he became Lieutenant Sorly was sent to the Western Front. Sorley arrived in France in May 1915 and after three months was promoted to captain. He was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Loos on October 13, 1915, leaving just thirty-seven poems completed. Sorley’s posthumously published book, Marlborough and Other Poems was as popular and critical success when it was published in 1916. [A more comprehensive bio is provided by the Poetry Foundation HERE.]
We love living in shadowlands that ride our backs,
pregnant with dream demons and rhinestone illusions ~
On such days we come crashing at the abrading edges
of narrow channels and wide-open oceans ’till we are
caught between moon-sight and sun-gold distortions
Easy then to precipitate bursts of chaos in the
hoary hibernation of our soul’s winter, denying the truth
in our own voices, the god-awful transience of our bodies
Yet here we are … Yes! Here we are
awakening on our rocky, rebel road …
serving our spiny poetry like Don Juan his peyote buttons
I wonder if that old Watchung home still stands
or has it been demolished by developers building
rows on rows of barracks-like housing where
big maples used to rise to line the roadway ·
Driving up to that sprawling place, soundly built
and well-loved, a kaleidoscope of colors greeted us –
The burnished bronze of our uncle’s skin and the
brown-black of his doe eyes and dense curly hair
The azure sky and snowy clouds tumbling down to
top the perfect juicy purple of ripe Italian plums
and the brisk reds of beefsteak and plum tomatoes
The true-green of the too-long grass feathering the
rich chocolaty shades of the well-mulched earth ·
That antique home was pristine white with green trim
and such a busy, welcoming, wrap-around porch,
often with bushels of fruit and vegetables standing
in the company of freshly cut flowers piled and tossed
All waiting . . . for what and for whom?
The airy rooms were waiting too with windows
and doors thrown open to children like me breezing
in from the The City with our pallid skin and eyes
burning to see our uncle and some untouched nature ·
Well-worn carpets, Persian and Arabian, brushed bare feet
as searching room-to-room for hidden treasures and history
I marveled at the accoutrements of other decades –
the water pump, the dumb-waiter, the pull-chain water closet
Each room was a marvel of furnishings, fine wood and hand-turned
Drawers lined with newspapers, yellow and dissolving with age,
advertising corsets, questionable cures, and other ephemera of this
same place in times mostly forgotten except for stale news
telling its stories to the silence in chests mostly empty and untouched
The mammoth tables in the large white high-ceilinged kitchen and
the stately dining room with its chandelier and heavy drapes spoke of
more formal multi-generational dinners before these days of greater
mobility and the tech distractions of i-This and smart-That
The peaceable, sturdy safe-haven of that white Watchung home
matched the steady embrace of its woods and orchards
where a child like me could lie on the hardy ground,
sun blinding bright, browning spindly arms and legs, small body
soaking in rich damp earth, mind yawning, stretching, awakening
Imagination rising in mists of violet-grey shot with silver stories
and flaxen poems finding their way into the pages of a notebook
Such plum-sweet visions set free by that mystical place –
I wonder if it still stands in Watchung, if it remembers me
And how I loved it – I still do
I think a lot about houses and housing these days. Here in Silicon Valley there’s a critical shortage of housing in general and especially of affordable housing. I know several families who lost their homes when the housing bubble burst in the later part of the last decade. I have a neighbor who ended up on the street for two years . There are too many folks who make their way by couch-surfing or living out of their cars or trucks. We read in the papers about homeless children here and abroad and think and pray and do what we can for all those people sleeping in the rough, escaping violence in their homelands. I’ve always appreciated our homes, never anything fancy but definitely safe, clean and functional, and I remember warmly the homes and hospitality of friends and relatives with whom I stayed at different times when I was a child.
I’m sure you too have memories of the houses or apartments in which you grew-up or stayed when you were young. Maybe those memories are good. Maybe not. Either way, they probably remain vivid in your mind. Perhaps there was one thing – like the tree in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – that had special meaning or gave you hope. Outside the complex where my mother lived there were two berry trees, Mulberry perhaps, that I thought of as guardians of the building.
Write a poem or creative nonfiction piece about the house or apartment that most stands out in your memories of childhood and tell us what it meant to you, what was special or loathsome, what dreams you may have nurtured there, or how it might have fixed your vision of the home you’d have as an adult. Take your time and enjoy the process.
what a morning, good morning
burst of apricot, showering light
drizzling glee, a child’s laughter
if I had to live for just one day
it would be this one, morning-glory
nodding her bright-eyed blue head
and i know, there’s no such thing no such thing as a death star
there’s only life, over hill and field
shining into windows, on warm grass Look! the daisies are smiling
and the California poppies are
popping yellow like corn in a pot
the moon was muse last night
today the sun is in love with me
Monsters rose from scenes gone by
And things once green lie down and die
While hoary sighs from glaciers stream
Mountains shiver in warming steam
Bays, gulfs and oceans wealth abort
As oil spills spew, smother and thwart
And man leaves earth in sad deface
His husbandry a vast disgrace
“…the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.”
Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
Note: I generally dislike rhymed poetry and don’t particularly care for this. No idea why it came out this way but it does say what I want it to say.
“The creative person, the person who moves from an irrational source of power, has to face the fact that this power antagonizes. Under all the superficial praise of the “creative” is the desire to kill. It is the old war between the mystic and the nonmystic, a war to the death.” May Sarton, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing
Eleanore Marie Sarton – nom de plume, May Sarton – was born in Ghent in Belgium to an English portrait-artist and interior-designer mother, Mabel Eleanor Elwes, and George Alfred Leon Sarton, a chemist and historian renown as the father of science history.
When the German invasion of Belgium began in August 1914 the family escaped to Mabel Sarton’s mother’s home in Ipswich, England. From there they traveled to America and settled in Boston so George Sarton could teach at Harvard University. May came from a family of gentle nonconformists and her maternal grandfather was among the original Fabians.
“Perhaps every true poem is a dialogue with God … when we are able to write a poem we become for a few hours part of Creation itself.” May Sarton in The Practice of Two Crafts, Christian Science Monitor (1974)
May Sarton’s parents did not belong to any church but she seemed to feel that her parent’s views were not inconsistent with those of the Unitarian Church.
Interviewed in The World in 1987, she told Michael Finley, “My father and mother believed that, though Jesus was not God, he was a mighty leader, and the spirit of Jesus, the logos of him, is the worship of God and the spirit of man.
“At the age of ten May was introduced to the Unitarian church by her neighborhood friend Barbara Runkle, whose family attended the First Parish in Cambridge. May was impressed by the minister, Samuel McChord Crothers, whose sermons she thought “full of quiet wisdom.” One sermon in particular, she recalled in her memoir At Seventy, 1984, “made a great impression on me—and really marked me for life. I can hear him saying, ‘Go into the inner chamber of your soul—and shut the door.’ The slight pause after ‘soul’ did it. A revelation to the child who heard it and who never has forgotten it.” The Encyclopedia of Unitarian and Universalist Biography
May began writing early and her first poems – sonnets – were published in Poetry magazine in 1930. Her other love was theatre and she abandoned a scholarship to Vassar to study theatre and to eventually found a theatre company. However, in I Knew a Phoenix, Sketches for an Autobiography she wrote that when her first collection was published she focused on writing and “never looked back.”
Her novel Mrs. Stevens Hears Mermaids Singing is considered a “coming out” book and her work was then labeled lesbian and featured in women’s studies classes. She regretted the label seeing it as limiting, which it is. May Sarton wrote about the experiences, fears and other emotions that are part of being human. Journal of Solitude, for example, is a meditation on aging and the changes aging brings to life, on solitude ( a frequent theme in her work), on love affairs and creativity. May Sarton’s true gifts are poetry and memoir and not to be missed. Her novels – as she knew and admitted – were good but not top-notch.
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.” May Sarton, Journey of Solitude
The following poem, Sisters, My Sisters, is one of May Sarton’s most well know poems. She reads it herself in this video. It was originally published in Kenyon Review in 1943 and is in Selected Poems of May Sarton.
If you are reading this in email, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view it.
“Nous que voulions poser, image ineffaceable Comme un delta divin notre main sur le sable” – Anna de Noaille
Dorothy Wordsworth, dying, did not want to read,
“I am too busy with my own feelings,” she said.
And all women who have wanted to break out
Of the prison of consciousness to sing or shout
Are strange monsters who renounce the measure
Of their silence for a curious devouring pleasure.
Dickinson, Rossetti, Sappho — they all know it,
Something is lost, strained, unforgiven in the poet.
She abducts from life or like George Sand
Suffers from mortality in an immortal hand,
Loves too much, spends a whole life to discover
She was born a good grandmother, not a good lover.
Too powerful for men: Madame de Stael. Too sensitive:
Madame de Sevigne, who burned where she meant to give
Delicate as that burden was and so supremely lovely,
It was too heavy for her daughter, much too heavy.
Only when she built inward in a fearful isolation
Did any one succeed or learn to fuse emotion
“Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.” ― May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude
this rough-barked sequoia stump, sitting in majesty
in its coastal home, victim of wildfire, burned down
to its gnarly roots, its nicks, holes and char, eons
of scars, life seemingly cut off, goddess snake alive
inside the concentric circles, the smell of wood and
scorch of fire, at the verge of our infinity, in its truth ~
haunted by the geometry of limbs, the calculus of green,
the algebraic eloquence of a world within a world ~
This poem was originally written in 2014 for Wilderness Week. There were then and are now a number of fires raging in the western United States. Wildfires are a natural occurrence but since the 1980s they’ve been increasing due to human-caused climate change. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists . . .
Wildfires in the western United States have been . . . occurring nearly four times more often, burning more than six times the land area, and lasting almost five times as long (comparisons are between 1970-1986 and 1986-2003) ….. many of the areas that have seen these increases—such as Yosemite National Park and the Northern Rockies—are protected from or relatively unaffected by human land-use and behaviors. This suggests that climate change is a major factor driving the increase in wildfires.” MORE
We tend to look at these fires in terms of the expense incurred fighting them and the cost of lives, homes, habitat, wild life and so forth. However, there’s one consideration we may forget: Nature teaches us, comforts us, feeds us and is the ebb and flow of our spiritual and physical lives. The loss – the environmental injustice – is profound on more than a material level. This is what the smell of wood, the scorch of fire seeks to illustrate. “Nature” is who we are. Nature is us.
Write a poem or creative nonfiction piece on what the natural environment means to you and perhaps the sense of loss you feel as you note plants, animals, insects and wilderness that you’ve seen damaged or destroyed by climate, industry, overpopulation and whatever else has effected the area in which you live.
You are invited to join The Bardo Group Beguines at The BeZineblog on Saturday, September 24 for 100,000 Poets (and friends) for Change. Below is a list of more features to provide you with information. We hope you’ll join us.
It’s always interesting, this business of feeding each other with our art and poetry . . .
Paula Kuitenbrouwer (Mindful Drawing), a Dutch nature artist, told a story one day, a sweet tale of the near-death of a beetle at her home in the Netherlands.
The tranquil garden-drawing Paula completed to commemorate the day is lovely and the first line of her post is both an homage to her unutterable respect for life and absolute poetry filled with the promise of story.
“I found a Carabidae beetle in a bucket with water and regretted its death by drowning . . . “
“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills . . . “
Something about those perfect sentences lets you know there’s a good story to come. And there was.
“It lay there for at least an hour and I hoped so much it would give a sign of life. Then I did the most crazy thing imaginable; I turned it on its back, squeezed it gently, and gave it heart massage (don’t ask). Three drops of water came out. I have no clue why I did such a weird thing. Would somebody tell me he or she had given cardiac massage to a beetle, I would have laughed out loud.” Paula Kuitenbrouwer
And so the inspiration for this poem ~
the garden floating in violet and ruby hues,
by the side of the house, a beetle floats too,
so jewel-like, amethyst and brilliant against
the dull gray water, it does not move
it lies there still as the dead of noon across
a bone-colored desert, and her hand so white,
wing-like flutters against its rigor, laying it
on the table, by a pad to sketch with pencils
that minuscule life, no will to release it
into whatever beetle heaven there might be,
laying tender finger to knead a tube-like heart
holding her breath, willing air into spiracles
wishful thinking? a flicker from the antennae?
slight movement of a leg? perhaps, perhaps
some healing pressure, one gentle push,
three drops of water, success in late hours
to heal a beetle, to sketch in varied colors
with time to hug the child and sip hot tea …
a creature saved from a sad death by drowning
and cherish the mindful drawing for a memory
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the black man bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the black man, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The abuse and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again
– Langston Hughes
It seems a lot of us could do with a re-read of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Let America Be America Again” … I love this country but it never was and is not now a good time had by all. Let’s work together and continue to make it and the world better place (i.e., safe, respectful, diverse, and equitable). Let’s not go back(ward) again. J.D.
Misery is when you heard
on the radio that the neighborhood
you live in is a slum but
you always thought it was home.
– Langston Hughes
“Langston Hughes House is a historic home located in Harlem, New York, New York. It is an Italianate style dwelling built in 1869. It is a three story with basement, rowhouse faced in brownstone and measuring 20 feet wide and 45 feet deep. Noted African American poet and author Langston Hughes (1902-1967) occupied the top floor as his workroom from 1947 to 1967. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.” [Wikipedia]
I, Too, Arts Collective
Harlem-based writer, Renee Watson, just initiated an Indigogo campaign to raise the money to rent Langston’s house and turn it into a cultural center, “for emerging and established artists in Harlem to create, connect, and showcase work…” MORE
If you are reading this from an email subscription, it’s likely that you will have to link through to the site to view the video …
According to Renee, the “I, Too, Arts Collective is a non-profit organization committed to nurturing voices from underrepresented communities in the creative arts. Our first major project is to provide a space for emerging and established artists in Harlem to create, connect, and showcase work. Our goal is to lease and renovate the brownstone where Langston Hughes lived in Harlem as a way to not only preserve his legacy but also to build on it and impact young poets and artists.”
Photo credits: Langston Hughes’ photograph is from the Carl Van Vetchten collection of the U.S. Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division id# cph.3a42821 and is in the public domain; the photograph of his house is courtesy of Americasroof under CC BY 3.0 license
Thank you for sharing the love of art, literature and peace.
When I remember you
I remember the amber moon
and the burnished brown of old oaks,
their leaves like hands waving goodbye
Summertime, as dusk transitioned to dark,
we’d sit on the beach by slow cooking-fires,
their coals gone from hard black to gray dust
I cherished your warm hug in the chill of the night
and falling asleep, safe
I stopped loving you,
but I never stopped loving the memory of you
I carry that with me on lunatic trips of the heart ~
though my preference is to rest solitary on forest logs
with their stunning imperfections and those
secret-lives swirling in the sunless damp on which they rest
I think of the path that led from then to now,
a mix of smooth and rough along a rocky coast ~
I live near the sea to breathe
I imagine you living, wherever you are –
by an ocean with your skin still smelling of Old Spice,
with your well-formed hands, the hands of a pianist and surgeon,
and the high-tensile strength of your mind
In the odd geography of life, no one knows where we came from
or how it was, how it felt to be us in the days of promise
when the spell of Hudson Bay fell like a prayer to St. Christopher
That bay is no longer our safe harbor,
but it gave us our sturdy roots and strong wings
and so the nights, the nights by this bay are good
When I smile at the amber moon, it smiles at you
– Jamie Dedes
Unfortunately first loves aren’t everyone’s happiest memory. Nonetheless, they often are good experiences from which to write. Write an epistolary poem or prose piece that tells the story of your first love from the perspective of time and expresses how you feel today about that experience and that person.