October Farewell

It seems I have forgotten, again, what this form of poetry is called, but it is simple, thus appealing: one syllable building up to ten and back to one. It works for me when the small framework of a haiku feels too restrictive.

A personal note. This blog, since its beginning, has been about reading, writing, nature walks, and small moments of beauty. In all these little travels, via imagination and footstep, there has been a wet nose, an inquisitive, drippy beard, and a patient, loving gaze. My constant companion, our dog, Fitz. I just want to mark his passing. He was the sweetest dog ever, and a beloved family member. This last year we have been nursing him through some difficult challenges as he grew old, as his mobility decreased, and as any pet owner knows, the time to ease them out of their life, when it comes, looms as an impossibility. Yet it must happen, and happen… it did.

On
being
October
of drifty skies
and wayward breezes
Are these days of dying?
Yet celebrate it they will
Merriment grim, laced with despair
Said charms of rotting pumpkins, sightless
fail to capture the all-seeing purpose
this balance between changeless Time and
our frail life that is ever changed
And of what of love? she cried out
Beyond the reach of both
as sure as harvest
nestles to earth
enfolding
falling
hearts


Photographs taken by me: Glow

Summer Wine and Word Savor

‘Words have personality.’

Or words to that effect. So said a famous wordsmith named Willard R. Espy, who wrote a great deal of delightful stuff about words, and remains highly unquoted.

51b1dqao1gl._sx361_bo1,204,203,200_One word that definitely has personality is caper, which is today’s word suggestion from the good folks at WP.

I wouldn’t call myself a word expert, by any means, (terms like uvular fricative make my brain hurt) but I do love to savor a word curiosity now and then. And just like a good wine, there are certain pairings that are immediately suggested by the palate. Like a good pinot and soft goat cheese, or a full-flavored port with a dark chocolate truffle.

So therefore, with caper (though it is also a pungent little berry that goes well with seafood and a crisp, chilled chardonnay) we have a word that suggests, inevitably, frolic.

You could even pair the two as frolicsome caper, and further suggest the word antics, and at the risk of sounding octogenarian, cavort.  This brings me to my red squirrels, which, quite unfortunately, were drunk this morning on summer wine, and doing all of the above.

IMG_2344

Summer wine not only goes well with capers, it causes them (the cavorting sort). The wine referred to here is what we like to call the Morello cherries from our tree that have fallen to the ground, now sweetly fermenting. They grow too high for us to actually make them useful for human consumption, but the squirrels and birds are having entirely too much fun up there in the back corner of the yard.

Gambol and tumble are good side dishes, as it were. If fact, if you look up ‘gambol’, you will find the following synonyms:

‘frolic, frisk, cavort, caper, skip, dance, romp, prance, leap, hop, jump, spring, bound, bounce; play; (dated, sport)’

To which I might add “see: tippling“.

All of those definitions sound quite athletic, even for a squirrel drunk on Morello cherries, so occasionally one tumbles down the rockery and causes concern.

So far I have witnessed no injuries, and the merriment continues.

IMG_2382

As you can see from the picture below, the lawn is slightly elevated from the patio, giving a stage-like appearance, which the squirrels use to good effect.

img_2326

(this beautiful quilt made by a dear friend)

Other than that, the garden is (usually) a peaceful place for reading. Perhaps even sipping a bit of Morello summer wine, if the squirrels will share.

 

Clematis Bower

IMG_2093

‘A rural portico was seen,
Aloft on native pillars borne,
Of mountain fir with bark unshorn
Where Ellen’s hand had taught to twine
The ivy and Idaean vine,
The clematis, the favored flower
Which boasts the name of virgin-bower,
And every hardy plant could bear
Loch Katrine’s keen and searching air.
An instant in this porch she stayed,
And gayly to the stranger said:
‘On heaven and on thy lady call,
And enter the enchanted hall!”

— excerpted from The Lady of the Lake, Sir Walter Scott

Of bloom and blossom, blur and bliss… finding a bit of all of the above in my clematis bower on this beautiful Saturday. Of the blur effect, for the photography suggestion of ‘focus‘ this week, I was trying out my new portrait feature on the iPhone, as there are power lines just beyond that cross the background, disrupting my lovely Lady of the Lake ambience. The blur effect, in turn, created the illusion that a clematis bloom had catapulted itself away from the pack and was on its way to some wild adventure.

(go little clematis, go!)

IMG_2101

The Rose Garden Husband

IMG_1946
‘Well, she had everything that she had wished for on that wet February day in the library. Money, leisure to be pretty, a husband whom she “didn’t have to associate with much,” rest, if she ever gave herself leave to take it, and the rose garden. She had her wishes, as uncannily fulfilled as if she had been ordering her fate from a department store, and had money to pay for it.’

That may sound like an odd recipe for happiness, but, for me, The Rose Garden Husband was a particularly good choice of novel to read on a fine day in this first of June, with my roses blooming abundantly in the garden.

The novel of choice having been written in 1915, it also had fair chance of being endowed with a fairytale happy ending. And that also sounded very nice.

45B56D88-7E2D-4C21-9E8E-DA120E622A9A-1926-000004F0866621FC

Margaret Widdemer

The book was a recent gift to me from a sweet friend who knows I like ‘old books and obscure authors’. And indeed, this writer is new to me, but I was delighted to see some lovely reviews of her work online.

Margaret Widdemer was prolific in output. Her writing career spanned from 1915 to 1968 (or so), and during this period she produced a whopping forty novels, plus many other works such as poetry (winning an early Pulitzer Prize), children’s stories, and essays. The Rose Garden Husband, published in 1915, was her first novel, and it continues to be a fan favorite.

Just say ‘Victorian era romance’, and it might bring to mind selfless heroines who go into declines, a room stuffed with horsehair sofas and stiff conversation, and, oh yes, maudlin sentiment. Widdemer’s novel brings some fresh air to this genre, and while the ending is predictable and a bit neatly packaged, it still delivers on charm and surprisingly humorous narrative. The heroine is every bit as selfless and full of New England backbone as we might have foreseen, but she is also energetic, witty, and comes with a few surprises.

‘I’d marry anything that would give me a rose garden!’

I liked this character a great deal, particularly when I read her list of things she wanted. I took a picture of the page (my copy is a 1915 reprint) because I was charmed by the neat little notes a former reader had written in to accompany the list. Likely the same former reader who had written her name ‘Harriet Rose’ in the flyleaf. Obviously, a desire for jewelry, poetry, and a plethora of shoes will charm ladies of any generation.

IMG_1964

Phyllis’ wish for ‘Ever so many Maxfield Parrish pictures full of Prussian blue skies’, and ‘A room big enough to put all father’s books up’ resonated with me.

Phyllis Harrington gets all this and more, though in the beginning she had only wished for a rose garden with a gentleman husband she wouldn’t have to ‘have any association with’.

She laughs at herself for this wish, however, and pulls herself together from her reverie. (Phyllis does not go into declines but she does go into reveries now and again.)

This sweet story is all about wish fulfillment, but there is an amusing curiosity not lost on the modern reader. Volumes of feminist erudition have been written on the plight of a young woman’s prospects in the fiction of Jane Austen and others of her era and beyond. To marry was a career move, and often the only way to advance in one’s life.

“Marriage is indeed a maneuvering business.” ― Jane Austen

Margaret Widdemer puts it baldly in this story, and in more modern terms—Marriage is a job opportunity.

IMG_1955

In the narrative, Phyllis has resigned herself to becoming a careworn spinster. Although she loves her career as a librarian, she has no time for social outings or opportunities to meet men. She also sees no way out of her constrained circumstances in life.

“I’m just a battered bisque doll!” she repeated to herself, bitterly.

(This struck me as a bit odd, to tell the truth, as Phyllis, though tired much of the time in the beginning, is described as very pretty with masses of honey blonde hair…more of ‘a pretty bisque figurine’ than a ‘battered bisque doll’, the author wants us to know… surely someone would have noticed her getting on or off the trolley on her way to and from work? Men are so resourceful that way… I would think potential suitors would have been lining up at the library feigning an interest in Modern Literature.)

A visit from a lawyer friend, Mr. De Guenther, sets the stage for a surprising offer for Phyllis.

“I have—we have—a little matter of business to discuss with you tomorrow night, my dear; an offer, I may say, of a different line of work…” [Mr. De Guenther hems and haws around the matter for a bit more, finally concluding, inconclusively: ]“Because the line of work which I wish, or rather my wife wishes, to lay before you is—is a very different line of work!”

The Different Line of Work, as Phyllis comes to realize, is a proposition of marriage from a future-mother-in-law, who is dying. The marriage, as old Mrs. Harrington hopes, will secure the compassionate care of her invalid son after she is gone. Phyllis may have only five or so years of ‘work’, supervising Allan Harrington’s care; then, it being likely he will die by that time, Phyllis will inherit the plump retirement of his entire fortune.

From rags to riches, from spinster to bride. From tweeds to satin, from sturdy librarian’s brogues to satin slippers. A career move, indeed.

Phyllis—a practical girl who is organized and makes lists—has few reservations. Likely she will need to interact with him very little, he has a fleet of servants and caregivers; her only responsibility is to see that they all do their job. Her career as the serious Miss Braithwaite, “Assistant for the Children’s Department, Greenway Branch, City Public Library“, with a background as manager of the Circulation and Cataloguing Departments, has equipped her admirably for this job.

She accepts.

‘It feels partly like going into a nunnery and partly like going into a fairy story,’ she said to herself.’

IMG_1951And what of Allan Harrington, the invalid with a death wish who is about to become the hero of the story?

The ‘scientific’ explanation of his condition, as expressed in 1915, was this:

“You see, it was found that the shock to the nerves, acting on an already over-keyed mind and body, together with some spinal blow concerning which the doctors are still in doubt, had affected Allan’s powers of locomotion.”

Ah, we get it. His paralysis isn’t an inability to walk. He just has no incentive. He wants to die. But Allan is about to meet his new incentive, and find his ‘powers of locomotion’ are capable of being revived.

Phyllis first meets Allan in his darkened sickroom. Her impression is:

‘A Crusader on a tomb. Yes, he looked like that. In the room’s half-dusk the pallor of his still….face and his long, clear-cut hands was nearly the same as the whiteness of the couch draperies. His hair, yellow-brown and waving, flung back from his forehead like a crest, and his dark brows and lashes made the only note of darkness about him.’

In spite of his obvious invalidism and tremulous voice, Phyllis finds him quite beautiful as a man.

‘Somehow she could not think of Allan Harrington’s dying. He was too beautiful to be dead, where nobody could see him any more….He must have been delightful,” she thought, “when he was alive!”

You might guess what is about to happen. We know it as soon as she sees him, and the next scene has her out shopping with Mrs. De Guenther buying:

‘… a heavenly white crepe thing with rosy ribbons and filmy shadow-laces—the negligee of one’s dreams.’

Oh, yes. Phyllis has plans. Plans that involve ‘a heavenly white crepe thing’. Her dream of a rose garden is about to come true, but that dream of ‘a husband whom she “didn’t have to associate with much”—? Dashed forever.

Oh yes, good things happen in this story. Good things delightfully told.


Additional notes:

Many of Margaret Widdemer’s books are available as ebooks, or can be read online. Other than that, I don’t know if she is actually ‘in print’, except perhaps print on demand copies.

I enjoyed Jane’s review of this book; as usual she describes the story in thoughtful detail, and I love her comment: ‘If you’d like to be captivated, if you have an uncynical heart that needs lifting…this is the book for you.’

I can only add to that it is nice to read a book that highlights unselfishness and kindness in people.

A nice article here, that gives us more insight into the character of Widdemer via her poetry–Read more about Margaret Widdemer as a poet here (Widdemer was one of the first to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry before it was known as the Pulitzer Prize)

For a possible likeness of the ‘Crusader on a tomb’ here is a fascinating account of one–and this particular knight ended up in New York at the Met Cloisters, oddly enough…but I’m thinking that Margaret actually saw this knight (a year before she published this book in 1915) and was taken by his quiet strength in death’s repose, for the website of the Cloisters gives us this tidbit on the history of the collection:

‘Much of the sculpture at The Met Cloisters was acquired by George Grey Barnard (1863–1938), a prominent American sculptor, and an avid collector and dealer of medieval art. Barnard opened his original Cloisters on Fort Washington Avenue to the public in 1914.’

Crusader

 

No Made Up Tale

As usual, when I sit down to write upon a topic, that topic immediately becomes much vaster than the ‘brief paragraph or two with accompanying picture’ will give justice to. I am a long-winded writer because…well…things are just interesting. Right?

cloudwalking2

Or not. You see, ‘portion control’ is what I have been striving to achieve with my blog. Most people relate portion control to food, if they tend to overeat. For me, it is related to what I choose to read and write. Some reading is just downright depressing, even if they are classics. Or perhaps the fact that they are classics and have survived this long with that much baggage is enervating to think about. I don’t know, actually. I just know that portion control in reading is a must for me to keep my psyche running lean and fit.

As to that, long-winded blog posts that I tend to write need portion control. I so love interesting side trips and digressions. All too often, though, they don’t fit the appetite of today’s reader.  So, if you have been following this blog for awhile, you may have noticed that my blog posts are shorter, and more infrequent.

Today’s post is a classic (pardon the pun) example of what I fight constantly as a reader and writer. It was to be about a simple parallel between a classic story—the Iliad—and an old-fashioned story set in Kentucky that I believe is one of the finest stories I’ve ever read.

But one doesn’t just quickly set about doing brief blurbs when it comes to some of the finest words ever put to paper. And one doesn’t just spin off a quick sentence or two about the strangely connected worlds of Homeric Greece and the Southern States without thinking of ‘Oh Brother, Where Are Thou’, the fabulous song ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’, and the generally often shrill insensibleness of epic heroes.

At this point I will just remind myself: Portion Control.

While I can get carried away by the sheer beauty of the poetry, the muscular power of imagery in books like the Iliad and The Odyssey, the weirdness (for lack of a better word) of the ancient mind can get a bit trying. It’s a similar kind of emotionally erratic journey I experience in reading the literature of ‘olden times’ in Appalachia, or the Kentucky hills, with all their quaint ‘dreamy-drunken’ expressions, as I call it. A lyrical poetry in the expressions, a sing-song seduction of narrative carries me along and before I know it I am similarly ‘cloud walking’ or caught adrift amidst the ‘fingers of rosy-colored dawn’.

Odysseus was ‘a man of many sorrows’—his tears became their own sort of character in the narrative, yet it is interesting that Man of Constant Sorrow is also an Appalachian folk song with a heritage that goes back hundreds of years, maybe more. Intense tribal loyalties, coupled with unbalanced vendettas against petty trifles–bringing on a cycle of war and feuds–these also share the same patterns of crazy quilt imagery both from the ancient Greek world to the southern hills of rural America.

These themes can be traced endlessly, and, especially when it comes to the folk songs and those indescribably erratic folk tales…are endlessly fascinating. Yet…for this not to go on for pages (or even be written at all) here is a simple comparison. It’s not even the best one–just the one I could access and distribute the fastest….

The book? Cloud-Walking, written in 1942 by Marie Campbell. As I said, one of the finest books I’ve ever read. I am not sure its unique power would be for everyone–for one thing, it resonates with me because I have a family history that relates to the Appalachian Mountains and Kentucky hills, and all those wild-hearted, stubborn, delightful people. But oh, this woman could write. (more on this book later!)

MarieCampbell

Marie Campbell

The second book needs no introduction: Iliad, by Homer. The tragic tale of heroic deeds and, yes…oh brother killing brother where art thou? (too close to home, I’m afraid).

‘For as long as it was morning and the holy day was waxing, the weapons thrown by both sides reached their mark and the men kept falling. But when a woodcutter makes his dinner in the mountain glens, when his hands are tired with cutting the tall trees and weariness has touched his heart, and desire for the pleasure of food takes over his mind–then the Danaans showed their worth and, calling to each other down their ranks, they broke the enemy line…Agamemnon was the first to spring through and kill his man, Bienor, shepherd of his people…’ [Iliad]

And back to the mountains here…

‘Back in other settlements they was killings aplenty over politics. Way over on Lone Creek five persons was killed and three more looking to die from ‘lection troubles. One place two brothers shot each other over who to vote for, and Uncle Blessing’s woman’s boy killed his woman’s pap and hisself over politics. From the time politics started in the spring to make ready for the primary voting till the candidates was picked and politics settled agin Nelt counted up about thirty persons shot to death in settlements about the country.’ [Cloud Walking’ 1942]

As Marie Campbell says in her forward, ‘this is no made up tale’. Sad but true.


More on Marie Campbell coming soon. (yes I really think it will happen this time!)

For yesterday’s visual of my fanciful Odysseus tears, see here.