"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A House Where All's Accustomed, Ceremonious

ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUSWho wouldn't want to live in Story, Indiana? Sounds like a place
right out of a book . . . or a place where you could read all the time!

Rustic Hoosier Postcard of Stone Head, Brown County
by photographer Darryl Jones
See also The Spirit of the Place: Indiana Hill Country

As you may have heard me say before, my inspiration for designing this blog came from two writers: Goethe, who hopes that each day might include a song, a poem, some fine art, a few wise words; and Yeats who describes "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." This poem, particularly the closing, has been a favorite of mine for many years, decades:

Prayer For My Daughter
Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all's accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

William Butler Yeats, 1865 - 1939
Irish poet and dramatist
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1923

The next two poems made their way into my notebook more recently. A few years ago, I discovered Louis Untermeyer's "Prayer For This House" in an poetry anthology that my children brought home from school; and around the same time, a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Family Prayer" was given to me by a neighbor in Philadelphia who told me that her mother read this poem every year before Thanksgiving dinner. Both are similar in tone and purpose to each other, and to Yeats' "Prayer for My Daughter":

Yeats prays for happiness, though "every bellows burst"
Untermeyer - for warmth, "though all the world grow chill"
Stevenson - for loyalty "down to the gates of death"

Yeats invokes "custom" and "ceremony" in the face of howling winds
Untermeyer - faith "to withstand the battering storm"
Stevenson - constancy in "all changes of fortune."

Yeats seeks a refuge from "arrogance and hatred"
Untermeyer - from "the raucous shout" of hate
Stevenson - from peril, tribulation, wrath

Yeats desires reprieve from the scowling face
Untermeyer - from "ill-fortunes," roar and rain
Stevenson - from "the lurking grudge"

Yeats hopes for the triumph of "innocence and beauty"
Untermeyer - for a "shrine" of peace and laughter
Stevenson - for "courage and gaiety and the quiet mind."

May their prayers be answered.

We Give Thanks

Prayer For This House
May nothing evil cross this door.
And may ill-fortunes never pry
about these windows; may the roar
and rains go by.

Strengthened by faith, the rafters will
withstand the battering of the storm.
This hearth, though all the world grow chill
will keep you warm.

Peace shall walk softly through these rooms,
touching your lips with holy wine,
till every casual corner blooms
into a shrine.

Laughter shall drown the raucous shout
and, though the sheltering walls are thin,
may they be strong enough to keep hate out
and hold love in.

Louis Untermeyer, 1885 - 1977
American poet, critic, anthologist
14th United States Poet Laureate, 1961 - 63

Prayers at Breakfast

A Family Prayer
Lord, behold our family here assembled.
We thank you for this place in which we dwell,
for the love that unites us,
for the peace accorded to us this day,
for the hope with which we expect the morrow;
for the health, the work, the food and the bright skies
that make our lives delightful;
for our friends in all parts of the earth.

Let peace abound in our small company.
Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge.
Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere.
Give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders.
Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully
the forgetfulness of others.

Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind.
Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.
Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors.

If it may not, give us the strength to encounter
that which is to come,
that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation,
temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune,
and, down to the gates of death,
loyal and loving one to another.

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850 - 1894
Scottish poet and novelist

Now you can store these poems somewhere safe, then take them out to share around the table next Thanksgiving!

Autumn Leaves

All paintings above by
Jessie Willcox Smith, 1863 - 1935
American illustrator of magazines and children's books

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT: www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST: www.kittislist.blogspot.com
my running list of recent reading

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Shadowy Feather of an Owl

My Beautiful House Ghost Constance Chauncey


This and all owls below by
American Artist Charley Harper

A list of my "Old Favorites From Way Back" (posted last month on Kitti's List) includes I Heard the Owl Call My Name (by Canadian writer Margaret Craven, 1901 - 1980). This is the story of a terminally ill young vicar, Mark Brian, who spends the last year of his life serving the residents of a remote North American Indian village and becoming familiar with their legend of the revered owl who heralds death: "It was death, reaching out his hand, touching the face gently, even before the owl had called the name" (147). As knowledge of his illness dawns upon him, Mark "heard an owl call--once, and again--and the questions that had been rising all day long reached the door of his mind and opened it." He confides in one of the village elders, "Marta, a strange thing happened tonight. On the banks of the river I heard the owl call my name" (155).


A similar owl, a welcome messenger of release and closure, appears in the following mystical poem by John Haines. The owl in this poem preys upon mice but is friend and silent companion to the narrator. The eerie, prophetic tone is similar to that of "Listening in October" (mentioned recently):

If the Owl Calls Again
at dusk
from the island in the river,
and it's not too cold,

I'll wait for the moon
to rise,
then take wing and glide
to meet him.

We will not speak,
but hooded against the frost
soar above
the alder flats, searching
with tawny eyes.

And then we'll sit
in the shadowy spruce
and pick the bones
of careless mice,

while the long moon drifts
toward Asia
and the river mutters
in its icy bed.

And when the morning climbs
the limbs
we'll part without a sound,

fulfilled, floating
homeward as
the cold world awakens.

poem by John Haines (b. 1924)
American poet and professor
Poet Laureate of Alaska, 1969 - 1973

"If the Owl Calls Again" and "Listening in October" can both be found in The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer: Collected Poems


In the following poem by Tennessee Williams, the owl appears as an omen of death, leading, at last, not to misfortune but to destiny. The owl is "shadowy" but not sinister. Nearing the end of his struggle with cancer, the narrator anticipates the owl's arrival. I am including this long poem in its entirety, because I'm not sure where else you might find a copy of it. Google yielded no results when I searched for it, so I took a few minutes to type it line by line:

The Summer Belvedere

Such icy wounds the city people bear
beneath brown coats enveloping withered members!

I don't want to know of mutilations

nor witness the long-drawn evening debarkation
of warm and liquid cargoes in torn wrappings
the ships of mercy carry back from war.

We live on cliffs above such moaning waters!
Our eyeballs are starred by the vision of burning cities,
our eardrums shattered by cannon.
A blast of the dying,
a thunder of people who cannot catch their breath
is caught in the mortar and molded into the walls.

And I, obsessed with a dread of things corroded,
of rasping faucets, of channels that labor to flow
have no desire to know of morbid tissues,
of cells that begin prodigiously to flower.

There is an hour in which disease will be known
as more than occasion for some dim relative's sorrow.
But still the watcher within my soundless country
assures the pendulum duties of the heart
and asks no reason but keeps a faithful watch

as I keep mine from the height of the belvedere!
And though no eyrie is sacred to wind entirely,

a wall of twigs can build a kind of summer.

I asked my kindest friend to guard my sleep.

I said to him, Give me the motionless thicket of summer,
the velvety cul-de-sac, and quiet the drummer.

I said to him, Brush my forehead with a feather,
not with an eagle's feather, nor with a sparrow's,
but with the shadowy feather of an owl.

I said to him, Come to me dressed in a cloak and a cowl,
and bearing a candle whose flame is very still.

Our belvedere looks over a bramble hill.

I said to him, Give me the cool white kernel of summer,
the windless terminal of it, and calm the drummer!

I said to him, Tell the drummer
the rebels have crossed the river and no one is here
but John with the broken drumstick and half-wit Peg
who shot spitballs at the moon from the belvedere.

Tell the feverish drummer no man is here.
But what if he doesn't believe me?
Give him proof!
For there is no lie that contains no part of truth.

And then, with the sort of courage that comes with fever,
the body becoming sticks that blossom with flame,
the flame for a while obscuring what it consumes,
I twisted and craned to peer in the loftier room--

I saw the visitor there, and him I knew
as my waiting ghost.

The belvedere was blue.

I said to my kindest friend, The time has come
to hold what is agitated and make it still.

I said to him, Fold your hands upon the drum.

Permit no kind of sudden or sharp disturbance
but move about you constantly, keeping the guard
with fingers whose touch is narcotic, brushing the walls
to quiet the shuddering in them,
drawing your sleeves across the hostile mirrors
and cupping your palms to breathe upon the glass.

After a while anxiety will pass.

The time has come, I said, for purification.

Rub out the lewd inscriptions on the walls,
remove the prisoners' names and maledictions,
for lack of faith has left impurities here,

and whisper faith to the summer belvedere.

Draw back the kites of hysteria from the sky,
those struggling fish draw back from their breathless pool,
and whisper assurances cool
to the watchful corners, and whisper sleep and sleep
along the treads of the stairs, and up the stairwell,

clear to the belvedere, yes, clear up there, where giggling John
stood up in his onionskin of adolescence
to shoot spitballs at the moon from the captain's walk.

And then, at the last, he said, What shall I do?
The sweetest of treasons, I told him. Lean toward my listening ear
and whisper the long word to me,
the longest of all words to me,
the word that divides the sky from the belvedere.

[emphasis added above]

by Tennessee Williams (1911 - 1983)
American Playwright
Twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Twice awarded the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award

Click to see more Charley Harper

Next Fortnightly Post
Sunday, November 28, 2010

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading