Thursday, September 18, 2014

On Blushing

I knew a girl who blushed and everything – compliments, kissing, winning and losing, laughing at a joke. She had a determined blush and bashful blush. She stayed flushed after a workout. Her blush could mean anything and everything but how to tell what? And like anything ever-present, it meant little. And like anything ever-present, it meant a lot.

Poetry gives us the best answers for the mundane and the all-important. This Keats poem is both of those things. I was delighted last night to find it in an anthology. He's so serious most of the time and I like him better for having read it.

Sharing Eve's Apple - John Keats

O blush not so! O blush not so! 
Or I shall think you knowing; 
And if you smile the blushing while, 
Then maidenheads are going. 

There's a blush for want, and a blush for shan't, 
And a blush for having done it; 
There's a blush for thought, and a blush for nought, 
And a blush for just begun it. 

O sigh not so! O sigh not so! 
For it sounds of Eve's sweet pippin; 
By these loosen'd lips you have tasted the pips 
And fought in an amorous nipping. 

Will you play once more at nice-cut-core, 
For it only will last our youth out, 
And we have the prime of the kissing time, 
We have not one sweet tooth out. 

There's a sigh for aye, and a sigh for nay, 
And a sigh for "I can't bear it!" 
O what can be done, shall we stay or run? 
O cut the sweet apple and share it!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Loves of Achilles

In the twilight of antiquity, an obscure grammarian copied down a few lines of a Sophocles play, The Loves of Achilles. Time and the chaos of the Middle Ages swept away manuscripts and most of Sophocles was lost. But one fragment was saved. The line is often quoted, notably in Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love, as love is like ice in the hands of children. The full line is below. It's all we have of something beautiful. It's enough.

When ice appears out of doors, and boys seize it up while it is solid, at first they experience new pleasures. But in the end their pride will not agree to let it go, but their acquisition is not good for them if it stays in their hands. In the same way an identical desire drives lovers to act and not to act.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Crooked Still: Friends of the Fall

This is in my head as the last swelter of summer gives way to chill at night and leaftips suggest the first blush of fall color. Mornings, the lake is a lift of fog shot through with sunlight. Evenings, wood smoke rises over the neighborhood. And through it all, a heady feeling of stepping fully into life.

It'll end too soon, if it ends at all..

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Song from Shakespeare

I normally don't go in for anthologies, especially of the poem-a-day variety. But I picked up Poem for the Day (ed. Nicholas Albery) at a book sale after reading Cornford's "To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train." I've been catching up on the year and read a snippet of Shakespeare today, the latter half of which I had jotted down after reading it in an epigram to another poem a month or so ago. I like these little synchronicities of reading. So here it is, a thing of beauty, an ephemeral song about the ephemarality of youth and eros:

from Twelfth Night - Act Two, Scene Three

    O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
    O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
    That can sing both high and low:
    Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
    Journeys end in lovers meeting,
    Every wise man's son doth know.
    What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
    Present mirth hath present laughter;
    What's to come is still unsure:
    In delay there lies no plenty;
    Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
    Youth's a stuff will not endure.

And a side note: though the Burnett compendium of A.E. Housman (which lists traceable influences and similar lines in other works) doesn't mention this song, I'm quite sure there is a link between youth's a stuff will not endure and Housman's breath's a ware that will not keep. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Thomas Hardy and the Color Run

In college, I binged on Thomas Hardy, reading all of his novels in a single semester. It's been a decade now but running the color run Friday brought The Return of the Native to my mind freshly as if I'd just read it. That's one of the joys of literature: what you read stays with you; you carry it around inside you, and, at certain times, it comes back in force.

In this novel, the jilted lover Diggory Venn turns to the road and the reddle trade. Reddle is a ocher powder used to dye ownership markings on sheep. "Reddle," writes Hardy, "spreads its lively hues over everything it lights on, and stamps unmistakably, as with the mark of Cain, any person who has handled it half an hour." On the color run, volunteers flung powder at the runners with great aplomb turning me into a veritable rainbow. One color-flinger hit me full force in the hip, such was his enthusiasm. By the end of the race and subsequent color mosh pit, I felt a bit like the unfortunate Venn, though died green rather than red. Luckily it only took a long hot shower for me to return (mostly) to my normal coloration.


"Reddlemen of the old school are now but seldom seen. Since the introduction of railways Wessex farmers have managed to do without these Mephistophelian visitants, and the bright pigment so largely used by shepherds in preparing sheep for the fair is obtained by other routes. Even those who yet survive are losing the poetry of existence which characterized them when the pursuit of the trade meant periodical journeys to the pit whence the material was dug, a regular camping out from month to month, except in the depth of winter, a peregrination among farms which could be counted by the hundred, and in spite of this Arab existence the preservation of that respectability which is insured by the never-failing production of a well-lined purse.

A child's first sight of a reddleman was an epoch in his life. That blood-coloured figure was a sublimation of all the horrid dreams which had afflicted the juvenile spirit since imagination began. "The reddleman is coming for you!" had been the formulated threat of Wessex mothers for many generations. He was successfully supplanted for a while, at the beginning of the present century, by Buonaparte; but as process of time rendered the latter personage stale and ineffective the older phrase resumed its early prominence. And now the reddleman has in his turn followed Buonaparte to the land of worn-out bogeys, and his place is filled by modern inventions."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bonhoeffer and Blake

I've been reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a reflection on community. Bonhoeffer's human love and spiritual love align with William Blake's selfish love and sacrificial love in "The Clod and the Pebble." 

Compare Bonhoeffer's human love and Blake's pebblish love:

Human love seeks direct contact with the other person; it loves him not as a free person but as one whom it binds to itself. It wants to gain, to capture by every means; it uses force. It desires to be irresistible, to rule.


Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven's despite.

Bonhoeffer's words on spiritual love are not so obviously aligned with Blake's cloddish love but the parallel is still there:

Because spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother. It originates neither in the brother or in the enemy but the Word. Human love can never understand spiritual love, for spiritual love is from above, it is something completely strange, new, and incomprehensible to all earthly love.


Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell's despair.

Love calls us outward, beyond ourselves. Any other direction turns love into a well of gravity which will consume everything around before consuming itself. Blake and Bonhoeffer, two very different men bat at this concept, reaching the same insight, one that I'll call (the very unpopular word) truth

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In Memoriam

Gertrude Petra Landrum
(June 10, 2011 - June 10, 2011)

My dear daughter,

In three years of mourning you, my grief has mellowed. I will always miss you but today my sadness is tempered with hope and with confidence that one day everything will be set right and made new, that the storms of life will pass and bring a joyful morning. This song speaks to that. Your grandfather played it for me when I was young and it's one of many songs I would have loved to play for you. So here it is. On that morning after the storm, we'll meet again. Happy birthday.