Five Favorite Poems

It’s that time of the week!  I’m linking up again with Heather of Mama Knows, Honeychild to bring you five of my favorites.  This week I’m sharing five of my favorite poems, which may be intensely boring to many (most?) of you, but I’m an English major so you are just going to have to put up with me.  (Alternatively, if you are a literary snob, you will probably sneer at my choices for being too conventional.)
In no particular order:
1.  The Daffodils by William Wordsworth

Daffodils growing by the side of the Pellissippi Parkway earlier this year
Daffodils growing by the side of the Pellissippi Parkway earlier this year

Daffodils are my favorite flower and always have been.  Thanks to the beautification efforts of Lady Bird Johnson, our nation’s capital is covered in them in season.  My roommate and I decided to memorize this poem while one of our long walks, inspired by sights like this:
lincold daffodils
I still know it by heart and could copy it out here for you, but instead I will give you a link.
2.  The Master Speed by Robert Frost
You’ve probably never heard of this one.  I looked it up after seeing a phrase from it used to title a book on marriage (Frost wrote it on the occasion of a wedding).  And later it inspired me to write this story.
No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still-
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar 
3.  The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
This one really needs no explanation.  I used to know it almost by heart, because Jake and Teddy loved me to read it aloud to them when they were little.  I love the rhyme and rhythm (“and the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain . . .”), and the depiction of endless depression makes my heart ache: “and my soul from out that shadow . . . shall be lifted–nevermore.”  Read the whole thing here.
4.  Remember by Christina Rossetti
Here’s another one I know by heart.  I can’t remember how I discovered it, but I find it to be a lovely reflection on grief and healing.  It’s repeated in full in this post.
5.  Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
This is much less sentimental than my other choices, but I just love the way it sounds.  I don’t know the whole thing by heart, but I wish I did.  We had to write a paper analyzing this poem in my Sophomore Honors English class.  This led to one of my most embarrassing moments ever in school when one of my friends told the professor that I had a very interesting interpretation, and I had to explain in front of everyone the sexual imagery I found in the poem.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
   The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
   A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

What’s your favorite poem?  Tell me in the comments! And don’t forget to check out the rest of the Five Favorites here.

The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Peter Jackson

Beware!  Herein lie spoilers!
I’m not in the habit of writing movie reviews, but then I’m not in the habit of going to movies either.  John loves them, and occasionally he insists on taking me, but usually I’d rather spend date nights talking.  I go to the theatre for big events:  Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Hobbit . . . the movies whose opening date you’ve known for months, the ones where your heart is pounding and you are a little bit breathless as the show finally begins.  Y’all, I had actual tears in my eyes when the theme music started.  This is serious stuff to me.
Why so serious? you ask.  Because I am, and have been, a certified Tolkien geek for most of my life, since I first read The Hobbit when I was about eight years old.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it–and its “sequel”–since.  I read it aloud to my children; I read The Lord of the Rings (yes, all 1,200 pages) aloud to my husband.  Pre-fire, I owned most of Tolkien’s books, including obscure works; I had the soundtracks of the animated versions of his books; I had encyclopedias and atlases of Middle Earth; I even had the War of the Rings board game.  In college, I wrote a term paper on Tolkien’s life; in grad school, I created an annotated bibliography of sources related to the languages he created.
So I’m not a casual fan, or someone who just discovered Tolkien because of Peter Jackson’s movies (which up until now I’ve mostly been pleased with).  And this is a family full of serious Tolkien fans.   We were so excited about this movie that we kept the kids out of school today so that we could go as early as possible.
the hobbitSo I hate that I was disappointed.
I was skeptical when Peter Jackson announced that he was making The Hobbit into a trilogy.  I knew he was going to have to make additions, but I expected that most of them would involve adding scenes from other Tolkien sources (like Gandalf’s meeting with Thorin in Bree, a scene in this movie) or expounding on things that are mentioned in the book but not fleshed out (like flashbacks to the fall of Dale and Erebor in the last one).  I did not expect him to flat-out MAKE THINGS UP.  His efforts to insert matters from The Lord of the Rings  into the first installment were irksome, requiring mischaracterization of the relationship between Saruman and Galdalf, and I groused about that then, but for the most part his tampering was minor enough to overlook.
But not this time.  You know, I could overlook Azog not being actually dead in the first movie, but I can’t overlook the appearance of Bolg as well and orc after orc after hideously ugly orc in this one, especially not in freaking Imax 3-D.  THERE SHOULD BE NO ORCS IN THIS SECTION OF THE MOVIE.  They go back to the Misty Mountains and don’t reappear until the Battle of Five Armies.  Y’all, orcs are repulsive to look at and I’m tired of seeing them get their heads cut off.  I mean the thrill is totally gone.
You know what else shouldn’t be in this movie? Legolas.  Now. don’t get me wrong, I love Legolas.  And I was prepared to go along with his presence, because Thranduil IS his father, and he is a Mirkwood elf, so he was probably there.  So give him  a few lines or whatever, but don’t give him a huge subplot, complete with a love triangle.
Oh, and don’t create a “she-elf” to be one of the vertices of said love triangle, and have her be the one who enlightens Legolas on his duty to leave the safety of the forest against his father’s will in order to help stop the spreading darkness (which is not really even mentioned in this book but which is insisted upon over and over in the movie–by the elves, Gandalf, the orcs, and even Smaug).
So belatedly I should say that the first problem I have with this movie is it adds things that never happened.  More things than I’ve mentioned.  But enough said.
Second, just because a movie is fantasy doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be believable.  Believable, I mean, within the confines of its own universe.  So yes, dragons and elves and dwarves exist, but even awesome elves like Legolas cannot physically do the things he does in the crazy action sequences (SO many action sequences) in this movie.  After awhile you are just shaking your head.  Nor can Thorin constantly survive blasts of Smaug’s fiery breath.  Or people fall repeatedly from great heights and hop right up with no broken bones.
Third, wouldn’t you think that one of the pluses of turning a short book into three long movies is that at least nothing would need to be cut?  That you would get to see every beloved scene on screen?  Well, think again, Buster.  Because Mr. Jackson is so enamored of his manufactured subplots that he doesn’t have time for the things that ACTUALLY happened.  The weeks of weary travel through Mirkwood?  Five minutes, tops.   Bilbo’s time spent skulking in the halls of the woodelves?  We see plenty of Thranduil (and what an ass he is) and Legolas and Tauriel (aforesaid she-elf) but we have no idea what poor Bilbo is up to until he appears with the keys.  The weeks the dwarves spend on the Lonely Mountain before they get inside?  They arrive moments before the keyhole appeared.
Fourth, the Ring.   The chief importance of the Ring in The Hobbit is that it’s Bilbo’s little secret weapon–he’s invisible while he fights the spiders, he’s invisible in the elf king’s halls, he’s invisible while talking to Smaug.  The Ring is NOT yet exerting some malevolent influence over him, for one thing because Tolkien hadn’t thought of that yet (although he goes for a little revisionist history later himself), but more important, MUCH more important, because it takes years and years and years before the Ring even begins to affect Bilbo.  His ability to resist its evil effects is miraculous and a tribute to him and to hobbits in general, and Gandalf makes much of that in The Fellowship of the Ring (the book, I’m talking about here).   But in this movie he has to be constantly pulling it out and staring at it and hearing the words that he does not even know are inscribed in it inside his head–in the Black Speech, no less–and even tells a spider, “It’s mine!” (At least he didn’t say it was precious.)  And when he should be using it, he’s always TAKING IT OFF.  Like when he is standing a couple of feet away from the MOUTH OF A FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON.
Finally, and most important of all, Peter Jackson has missed the point of The Hobbit in every possible way.  It’s a children’s story that he wants to rewrite for an adult audience.  It’s a simple tale that he wants to make complicated.  It’s a standalone book that he wants to tie to the War of the Ring.  And at its heart, it’s BILBO’s story.  It’s the story of how a simple, stay-at-home hobbit left his comfortable fireside for an adventure he never knew he wanted  and discovered that there was more inside him than he and others guessed.    Bilbo is largely missing from the second installment, which plays partly like Thorin’s story and partly like a prelude of the evil to come.  His triumphant moments are passed over quickly or even taken away from him all together (the elves come to the rescue and finish killing off the spiders, his single-handed liberation of the dwarves from the eleven king requires more elvish assistance as well as help from the dwarves and Bard).  In the book the dwarves respect and rely upon Bilbo more and more as time goes on.  That’s important–central–and you don’t see it here.
If I had never read The Hobbit, I would have liked this movie.  It was fast-paced and exciting and visually appealing.  I thought the 3D was used to much better effect this time around–there were times where the characters looked REAL to me in a way I can’t exactly explain.  The spiders and Smaug were awesomely scary.  I liked Tauriel’s character.  But as someone who loves the book, I instead found myself constantly shaking my head, and thinking, “Did he really just do that? Really?”

Books Worth Reading

I’m cheating a bit on this post because it’s so late and I don’t have much time to make the NaBloPoMo deadline, but I’m a sucker for this kind of thing anyway.
Yesterday a Facebook friend invited me to do the following:
The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. 15 books that influence you or will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can think of in 15 minutes. Tag at least 15 friends, including me, because I am interested in seeing what books my friends choose. Copy the rules, list 15 books and tag 15 friends.
I produced the following list (many of which I blogged about before here), and I was so disappointed that only one of my friends joined in!  Feel free to join in yourself in the comments if you wish.
1. The Lords of Discipline (My favorite book by my favorite fiction writer, Pat Conroy–this is arguably my favorite book of all time.)
2. The Art of Natural Family Planning (This set me on the right path before I had a chance to make any mistakes and I am grateful.)
3. Let’s Have Healthy Children (I read it while pregnant with #1 and I credit it with the robust health enjoyed by all my children.)
4. Surrendering to Motherhood (I need to re-read this periodically to remind me of what’s REALLY important.)

5. Kids Are Worth It! (This is best parenting book I EVER read.)
6. How to Raise Healthy Children in Spite of Your Doctor (We rarely go to the doctor and this book is one reason.)
7. Between Parent and Child (I only wish I could always remember to speak to my kids the way Haim Ginott suggests.)
8. The Lord of the Rings (I’ve read it more times than I can remember, including once out loud.)
9. The Song of Bernadette (I understand and appreciate it more with every reading, and I am so grateful to have been able to visit the site where it all happened.)
10. The Greatest Salesman in the World (I’m not a huge fan of self-help but this is lyrical and inspirational with an awesome twist.)
11. Breastfeeding and Natural Childspacing (This was life-changing for me–I breastfed for 13 years.)
12. Humanae Vitae (I’d heard birth control was wrong but no one ever told me why until I read this beautiful encyclical.)
13. Childbirth without Fear (The first book I read on childbirth, it formed my views about what birth could be.)
14. Open Season (This led me to my triumphant VBAC of my 13 lb. 5 oz. son.)
15. Gone with the Wind (I first read it when I was only 8–I’ve read this one aloud as well!)
Won’t you play?  What are your favorites?

Reading Aloud: It's Not Just for the Kids

David Copperfield.
Gone with the Wind.
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The Lord of the Rings.
Dracula.
The Lords of Discipline.
The Hobbit.
The Dark is Rising series.
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The Chronicles of Narnia.
A Tale of Two Cities.
Little House on the Prairie.
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What do the above books have in common (besides being awesome, of course!)?
They are all books that I have read aloud in their entirety.  This might make you think I am a great mother, carrying on the bedtime reading well past the early childhood years.  You’d be wrong.
Because I did not read these books to my kids–I read them to my husband.
I don’t remember how it started, but way back when we were first married–maybe even before–I started reading aloud to John, sometimes at bedtime, often on long car trips (there were many in those days), and even just sitting in the living room, when we got so absorbed in a book we just didn’t want to stop.
I picked the books–favorites of mine that I wanted to share.  Sometimes I picked authors–like Dickens–that John was doubtful about, just so I could prove him wrong. 🙂
We continued this even after we had kids.  I can remember sitting out on the balcony of our last apartment, reading David Copperfield and feeling sad at the end of the nearly 1,000 pages, because we were going to miss the characters we had spent so much time with.
I remember sitting in the living room of our first house, reading Gone with the Wind by the light of the Christmas tree, and hearing little Emily in the hallway, listening in.  It was a great way to spend time together, doing something special without leaving the house, which would have required a babysitter.
What I can’t remember is exactly when we stopped, or why.  It was probably about ten years ago.  Maybe we got too busy, having four kids and lots of outside activities.  Maybe it was too noisy on car trips and we had to focus on amusing the kids instead of ourselves.  Maybe we were so tired at bedtime that we just fell asleep.  For sure, part of it was that Emily got old enough to babysit, and we were able from then until recently to leave the house whenever we wanted to spend time together without the kids.
But now that has changed.  The big boys are still at home, but not much.  They have active social lives that keep them out of the house most of the time on weekends.  If we want to be assured of a babysitter for a special occasion, like a wedding or an anniversary, we have to make a plan with them in advance (because we are not THOSE people, who expect their teenage kids to take care of their little siblings no matter what–we always ask.).
William is 11–old enough, in our opinion and his, to stay alone at home for an hour or two, in the daytime hours.  But he is not old enough to be responsible for seven-year-old Lorelei, day or night.
So we are spending more time at home in the evening than we have in years.  And it occurred to me that reading aloud would be a much nicer way to connect than playing on our separate computers all night.  I’ve been wanting to read Jane Eyre to John for some time.  Then Wuthering Heights.  I can’t wait!
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[UPDATE:  I’m embarrassed to admit that we couldn’t get through one chapter.  We can’t stay awake while reading in bed anymore.  However, I’ve gotten back into the reading aloud groove in order to help William with his school English assignments.  In the past year I’ve read him War of the Worlds, Frankenstein, and Unbroken.  And right now I’m reading The House with a Clock in Its Walls to the whole family.]

We were in Alabama over the weekend . . .

. . . but not to watch the big game. 🙁
No, we were in Mobile, at Spring Hill College, to visit Emily, our oldest, for Family Weekend.  Emily is a Junior, and some of us have attended the weekend each year, but this time it seemed especially important for us to be together, since she has not been with us during the recent trials and tribulations.
John in particular felt nervous about leaving our new home considering what happened the last time we went out of town, but I convinced him, and we took Lorelei along as well.  And we had a great time.  It was the nicest weather we’ve ever experienced at Spring Hill, which was a balmy 102 the first time I set foot on its campus!  The highs were in the 70s and it was sunny but breezy.
There are some planned activities that are part of the weekend but most of our fun was spontaneous:  A trip to Target to shop with some of our gift cards at a place with a lower sales tax, dinner at Felix’s Fish Camp, dessert at Yolo–where we were surprised with free cupcakes to go with our frozen yogurt, afternoon coffee and cider at Carpe Diem, visiting the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception downtown.
The highlight of the trip for Lorelei–who hung on Emily like an affectionate parasite the entire time we were there–was probably spending two nights with Emily in the dorm.  But for the rest of us it was certainly the two hours we spent at the Book Nook, the little used book store in the basement of the college library.  Emily told us she had a surprise for us on campus.  What can I say–she knows what we like!
I started at one end and made my way mostly around the whole store.  We each had our own approach.  John was looking for all new books.  I was replacing the classics–not all of them, but the ones I just KNOW I will be wanting to read again–The Canterbury Tales, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, to name a very few.  Emily was replacing some that she had lost and finding others that had been on her list to read.  Lorelei was poring over picture books, mostly about animals.
Soon the four elderly ladies and the one college boy who volunteer at the store noticed we were getting quite a big stack of books.  They were hysterical, by the way, talking about books and politics in their Alabama accents and teasing the boy who they said works there because they are so good looking.  It was kind of an intellectual Steel Magnolias vibe.  Of course I told them why we needed all these books, knowing instinctively that they would understand the tragedy of our loss.  In the end, we had a plastic container (which they gave us, and had the young man carry to the car) about three feet long and two feet deep full of books, which they sold to us for half-price–$75.  It was a good afternoon in a good weekend.
And everything and everyone at home was fine when we came back. 🙂

In the campus Grotto

At Felix’s Fish Camp

Lorelei thinks she’s a college girl

Sunday Mass at St. Joseph’s Chapel on campus

A beautiful morning on campus

Songs of Innocence and of Experience


When I was in college, I opted to pursue an Honors degree in English.  Part of the requirement for this was to write a sort of mini-thesis that incorporated some concept that one could trace through several different works and then defend before two professors and a peer.
In the Liberal Arts Seminar that consumed most of my freshman year, I had been introduced to the pre-Romantic poet William Blake and his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, books of poetry that he illustrated with his own woodcuts.  The idea that we all start out life innocent (think Adam and Eve in Paradise) but then inevitably have to pass through the fires of experience seemed to keep turning up over and over in the books I read throughout college.  Blake’s vision wasn’t entirely bleak, thankfully, since he implied that if one learned from the experience, “organized innocence” –wisdom–would result.
So in my paper I talked about innocence, experience, and wisdom in Blake’s poetry, in William Wordsworth’s Prelude, in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield.  I defended it successfully, and I got that Honors degree.  Did I understand what I was writing about?  Probably not.
But most people who have made it to (ahem!) middle age would understand, and they wouldn’t need an Honors degree to do it, either.  Because by now all of us have passed through the inescapable fires of experience, and we hope that we are at least a little wiser.
Last night I attended a production of  The Fantasticks, the longest-running musical EVER, put on by the KCHS Theatre Department.  My son Jake played El Gallo.  Twenty-seven years ago, my husband played Amos Babcock Bellamy.  He admits that he and his friends didn’t really understand the play then, and Jake admits that he and his friends don’t really understand it now.  Our younger kids attended with us last night, and they enjoyed it, but they didn’t comprehend it.
How could they, when it is an extended metaphor about innocence, experience, and wisdom, and when you are in high school you don’t know or believe any of that.  Who doesn’t want to believe that first love will last forever?  Who wants to think that being buffeted and scarred by the world not only confers benefits but is actually necessary to growth?  Who wouldn’t rather stay in the garden forever, with no need for eventual redemption?
I started crying last night as soon as Jake appeared onstage singing  Try to Remember at the opening of the play.  Part of that had to do with parental pride and my feelings about my son, but part of it sprang from the sadness of knowing (as the song says) that “without a hurt the heart is hollow.”  The play has a happy ending of sorts, but still I saw my husband wiping his eyes at the end.  Because even though we both know that innocence comes to an end, that experience is unavoidable, that the wisdom we’ve gained since we were in high school is valuable, irreplaceable–we wish it didn’t have to be that way.


Thank you to Palo for the beautiful featured image.

Thoughts of Spring

Back in the dreadful heat of summer I promised that I would never complain about cold this winter.  And mostly I haven’t.  I have enjoyed being cold!  I love the snow and I hope we get some more.  I am in no way ready for winter to end.
However, I do hate grey, depressing days like this one.  It’s hard for me to concentrate or really to get anything accomplished at all when the view from my office window is so bleak.  So I felt like indulging in a little springtime fantasy and sharing my very favorite poem with you:

“The Daffodils”

by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I have so many pleasurable associations with this particular poem, which I am sure is very familiar to my readers.  In my freshman year at Georgetown University, I participated in a class called the Liberal Arts Seminar, a team-taught, multi-disciplinary, life-absorbing experience that met for nine hours a week for both semesters.  Our English professor was Dr. Paul F. Betz, a pre-eminent Wordsworth scholar.  His enthusiasm for Wordsworth and William Blake was contagious.  Daffodils have always been my favorite flower and I quickly memorized this poem.  One day I called home and started quoting the poem to my eight-year-old sister–only to have her join in, as she had just memorized it too!
As part of her Beautification Campaign, Lady Bird Johnson caused thousands of daffodils to be planted in our nation’s capital.  These delighted me on the long walks to the monuments that my roommate and I used to take every springtime.  Today, a framed photograph of the Lincoln Memorial with daffodils in the foreground hangs on my dining room wall next to a picture of Georgetown. [edit: not anymore. sigh.]
When I had my first house I determined to make my own daffodil field.  I planted more and more each year with the plan of eventually covering the whole hillside.  We moved, but the daffodils are still there.  Oftentimes, in the Smokies, patches of daffodils are the only remaining indications of homesites.  The cabins are long gone, but the bulbs continue to thrive, mute reminders of the women who once tended house and garden there.

Poetry Blogging : To a Fat Lady Seen from a Train

A couple of years ago one of my children was studying poetry in middle school English class, learning different types of rhyme/rhythm schemes.  The following poem was given as an example of a triolet (a form I had never heard of before).
TO A FAT LADY SEEN FROM A TRAIN
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
This poem was written by Frances Darwin Cornford.  Yes, she was Charles Darwin’s granddaughter, and although she wrote other poems as well, this much-hated one is her present claim to fame.  G.K. Chesterton so loathed it that he penned this scathing reply:
THE FAT WHITE WOMAN SPEAKS
Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves as such?
And how the devil can you be sure,
Guessing so much and so much,
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?
If you read the above link which explains what a triolet is, you will learn that Cornford’s poem is a perfect example, which is one reason it is quoted and remembered; another is that it makes people angry.  And I’m not really sure why that is.  Are people angry that the poet would make an assumption about someone based on what she observed in such a brief instant in time?  But isn’t it the poet’s–or any writer’s–prerogative to apply her imagination to whatever raw material she encounters? It’s not like she found out the woman’s name and told the world that she knows for a fact that no one loves this woman!
Maybe they are angry because the poem calls the woman fat, and they assume that the poet has decided it is her fatness that makes her unlovable.  Myself, I read “fat” as nothing more than a descriptor.  Plenty of fat women are loved, after all, both now and in Cornford’s time.
I read it differently, seeing the gloves as a metaphor for the woman’s refusal to engage with the messiness of life, which causes her to miss out on sensual experiences and therefore on love.  Gloves are too formal for a walk through the fields and suggest that this woman sees herself as separate from or above nature, perhaps someone who doesn’t wish to “get her hands dirty” by experiencing life and love.
What do you think?  Do you like the poem?  Or do you agree with Chesterton?

Private pain

 A WONDERFUL FACT to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life’s end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

The above is from one of my favorite novels, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  Perhaps it has stayed with me because it so eloquently expresses a mystery I have often felt but have never been able to explain so well, the realization that all around me, others are going through their days, living their lives, thinking their thoughts, and those lives and those thoughts, of which I am completely unaware, are every bit as important to them as mine are to me.  I may see a person just once, through a car window, our lives just barely intersecting, and I will never know anything more about that person, her triumphs, his tragedies. 
Have you ever stared at the person you love most in the world and suddenly realized something similar, that he or she is a person just like you, with an inner life and thoughts you can never fully fathom?  All of a sudden that person starts to look a little too REAL, somehow, and you almost have to look away.  It’s too much to think about, too much to understand.
I’m thinking about this today for a sad reason.  I was thinking about how over the past several weeks so many of us have been following Henry’s tragic story, and it has become very personal to us, and painful, because Katie’s writing drew us in and she allowed us to become part of the story, to have the privilege to share her suffering.
But there is so much suffering and so much death, all around us, every day, that we cannot share.  This morning the headline story of our local paper told of the death of another teenager, this one a girl who was shot on her own front porch by a stray bullet as she tried to take her baby cousin to safety.  How many more have died from drive-by shootings, because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time?  And just last week two teenage boys died in a terrible car crash while on a road trip.  Car crashes are the third leading cause of death for teenagers, after all.  
Almost exactly two years ago, our family members in Maryland were stunned by the death of Brian, who had just graduated from high school and was headed to the beach to celebrate when his car was hit by a drunk driver–a driver who had killed with his car before.  And I still remember vividly the case of the Knoxville Catholic High School senior, Sharon Gerard, who died in a motorcycle crash on graduation night when I was still a sophomore. 
So many tragic and early deaths.  If you are reading papers in other states, you’ll have seen different stories, equally sad.  Or you have personal knowledge of similar situations–perhaps your family has been touched personally by untimely death.  We read the stories of others, and maybe our eyes dampen a bit as we say what a terrible thing it is that has happened.  But then we go on, because there is only so much pain we can allow ourselves to feel.
Death and tragedy and loss are, then, universal.  We all suffer them.  Yet to the extent that we experience them privately and internally, our losses are singular and peculiar to us alone.  Everyone feels them differently and we can never know exactly how another is grieving.  Nor can we know what private pain that person we glimpse in passing through the car window is carrying inside, but we can be sure that there is something.

The Little Black Boy

Most of my classes my first year at Georgetown were part of the Liberal Arts Seminar, an interdisciplinary course taught by renowned professors of English, Theology, Philosophy, and History.  Our English professor, Wordsworth scholar Paul F. Betz, introduced us to pre-Romantic poet William Blake and his Songs of Innocence and of Experience.  When I read yesterday about little African-American children showing signs of white bias, I thought of his poem “The Little Black Boy,” and I wanted to share it with you.  The pictures at the beginning and end of this post are Blake’s own original illustrations.

 THE LITTLE BLACK BOY
by: William Blake (1757-1827)
Y mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O, my soul is white!
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereaved of light.
My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissèd me,
And, pointing to the East, began to say:
‘Look at the rising sun: there God does live,
And gives His light, and gives His heat away,
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.
‘And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Are but a cloud, and like a shady grove.
‘For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear His voice,
Saying, “Come out from the grove, my love and care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice.”‘
Thus did my mother say, and kissèd me,
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,
I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our Father’s knee;
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.