"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, June 27, 2010

Butterfly Collection

ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS

My only sketch, profile of heaven is a large blue sky,
larger than the biggest I have seen in June --
and in it are my friends -- all of them -- every one them."

~ Emily Dickinson ~
[small original acrylic painted by friend Dot Menard, in 1977]

"Hey, Summertime!" What is it about butterflies? We can't seem to resist chasing, catching, collecting, displaying, even planting flowers especially to attract them. A number of butterfly images still linger in my mind from childhood, particularly the mid - 60s Coca Cola song and television ad in which a carefree girl swings on a rope way out over the edge of a creek:

"Birds and bees and all the flowers and trees,
Fishes on the line,
Girls and guys and yellow butterflies
Saying 'Hello summertime.'
Ice-cold Coke on the back of my throat
Saying "Hello summertime.
Hey summertime, hey summertime
You and me and summertime
It's the Real Thing."
(emphasis added)

Okay, that was television, but there are recollections from books as well, such as the magical luna moths that appear in both Then There Were Five (follow-up to The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright) and A Girl of the Limberlost (Hoosier classic by Gene Stratton-Porter). More recently, Up From Jericho Tel (by award winning novelist E. L. Konigsburg) contains not only a ceremonial burial for a stricken luna moth -- "Fly. Fluttter. Falter. Fall" -- but also the secret password: "Papillon!"

And speaking of Papillon! who could forget this little poem:

"Non. That means no.
Oui. That means yes.
And papillon. That means butterfly.
Oui, non, Papillon -- a very pretty rhyme."


from The Witch Family
by Eleanor Estes (1906 - 1988)
American Children's Author
Newbery Medalist & Honor Recipient

(In addition to the butterfly poem, The Witch Family also features the amazingly literate bumblebee: Malachi the Spelling Bee, a very impressive character indeed!)

A few years later into my collection came Butterflies Are Free, a 1972 film (based on a 1969 play of the same title by American playwright Leonard Gershe, 1922 - 2002). The movie stars Goldie Hawn as Jill, and Edward Albert (son of Eddie from Green Acres fame) as Don. I didn't go to many movies back in those days, but this one I did see at the cinema in 1973. I also saw the play performed live at a St. Louis dinner theatre in 1975, with Angela Cartwright (from Make Room for Daddy & Lost in Space) cast as the female lead. Goldie Hawn, so charming, would be a hard act for anyone, even Angela, to follow, but still I remember both versions favorably.

The title derives from Jill's favorite quotation: "I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies." When she claims that these words are from Mark Twain, Don politely points out that, in fact, Skimpole is not a Twain character but a Dickens character, from the novel Bleak House. Silly Jill; she's such an airhead!

Running through my mind along with the Coca Cola song is the tune that Don sings to Jill (music & lyrics by American musical theatre composer Stephen Schwartz, b. 1948):

"I knew the day you met me
I could love you if you let me
Though you touched my check
And said how easy you'd forget me
You said Butterflies Are Free
And so are we."



















Additional items in my Butterfly Collection include
1. the fanciful pictures above and below
by author and illustrator Cooper Edens, known for his whimsical artistry (see Green Tiger Press / Laughing Elephant)

2. this 1969 favorite from John Denver:

Catch Another Butterfly
Do you remember days not so very long ago
When the world was run by people twice your size?
And the days were full of laughter
And the nights were full of stars
And when you grew tired you could close your eyes

Yes the stars were there for wishing
And the wind was there for kites
And the morning sun was there for rise and shine
And even if the sniffles kept you
Home from school in bed
You couldn't hardly stay there after nine

And I wonder if the smell of morning's faded
What happened to the robin's song
That sparkled in the sky?
Where's all the water gone
That tumbled down a stream?
Will I ever catch another butterfly?

Do you remember campouts right in your own backyard?
Wondering how airplanes could fly
And the hours spent just playin'
With a funny rock you found
With crystal specks as blue as all the sky

And I wonder if the smell of morning's faded
What happened to the robin's song
That sparkled in the sky?
Where's all the water gone
That tumbled down a stream?
Will I ever catch another butterfly?

Now I watch my son, he's playin' with his toys
He's happy, I give him all I can
But I can't help feelin'
Just a little tingly inside
When I hear him say he wants to be a man

And I wonder if the smell of morning's faded
What happened to the robin's song
That sparkled in the sky?
Where's all the water gone
That tumbled down a stream?
Will I ever catch another butterfly?
Will I ever catch another butterfly?


lyrics & music by John Denver (1943 – 1997)
born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.
American singer - songwriter
Poet Laureate of Colorado, 1977


















3. this #5 hit from 1966:

Elusive Butterfly
You might wake up some mornin'
To the sound of something moving past your window in the wind
And if you're quick enough to rise
You'll catch a fleeting glimpse of someone's fading shadow
Out on the new horizon
You may see the floating motion of a distant pair of wings
And if the sleep has left your ears
You might hear footsteps running through an open meadow

Don't be concerned, it will not harm you
It's only me pursuing somethin' I'm not sure of
Across my dreams with nets of wonder
I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love

You might have heard my footsteps
Echo softly in the distance through the canyons of your mind
I might have even called your name
As I ran searching after something to believe in
You might have seen me runnin'
Through the long-abandoned ruins of the dreams you left behind
If you remember something there
That glided past you followed close by heavy breathin'

Don't be concerned, it will not harm you
It's only me pursuing somethin' I'm not sure of
Across my dreams with nets of wonder
I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love


lyrics & music by Bob Lind (b. 1942)
born Robert Neale Lind
American singer - songwriter

4. and to conclude, another brief
poem by Emily Dickinson:


The Butterfly upon the Sky,
That doesn't know its Name
And hasn't any tax to pay
And hasn't any Home
Is just as high as you and I,
And higher, I believe,
So soar away and never sigh
And that's the way to grieve --


*************************

5. Oui, non, Papillon!


COME BACK FOR
Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

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

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

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wise Fool

"Who is it that can tell me who I am?" ~King Lear

Favorite Museum:
The Lady Lever Art Gallery
Port Sunlight, Merseyside, England
Gerry and Ben at the Lady Lever, Ten Years Ago

The names alone are enough to take one's breath away: Cordelia's Portion, Lady Lever, Port Sunlight! Port Sunlight is one of the most charming towns in all of England, a nearly perfect early twentieth century model village. Its premier feature is the jewel - like Lady Lever Gallery, which contains an amazingly extensive collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings, including Ford Madox Brown's tableau of the tragedy of King Lear, entitled: Cordelia's Portion. When touring the gallery, I like to save this painting until last and stand before it in awe for awhile, marveling at the understated intensity of Lear's sadly fractured family and needlessly divided kingdom.

Favorite Painting:
Cordelia's Portion (c. 1866)
by Ford Madox Brown (1821 - 1893)
English painter of moral and historical subjects
loosely connected to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
To the left are the malevolent sisters, Goneril & Regan, staring each other down; and kneeling at their feet, the Dukes of Cornwall & Albany, Lear's corrupt sons-in-law. To the right, are the fickle Duke of Burgandy; dear Cordelia, Pure of Heart, whose "love's more richer than her tongue," and the loyal King of France. In the center is King Lear, dejected, misguided; and at his feet, the Map of the Kingdom, divided. In this painting, the Fool is only a minor character. You can see his blue hood if you look closely behind the dark - haired sister.

However, in numerous other depictions of Lear's tragic demise, the Fool is a major player. Likewise, the Fool is central to the action of Shakespeare's play. Referring to himself as "Lear's shadow," Lear's Fool is a character of wisdom, loyalty, and comprehension, who grasps the mixed motivations of all the other characters. In this next painting, the artist dramatically captures the Fool's ability to mirror Lear’s flawed judgment:

King Lear and the Fool in the Storm (c. 1851)
by William Dyce (1806 - 1864)
distinguished Scottish artist
advocate of public art education
No study of the Fool would be complete without the following poem that my father shared with me when I was in high school. I wish I knew more of the story behind his giving it to me: when did he first learn it, did someone pass it on to him or where did he come across it -- in a book or a magazine or a class? My only reference now is the typed copy that has been stored in one of my high school notebooks since graduation. In turn, I passed this poem on to my son Ben during his junior high years at St. Peter's School, Philadelphia, where the students were required to memorize and recite a poem every month. Ben and Sam became quite adept at managing increasingly long works, and I often urged them to choose from among my old favorites. Ben won first place for this one:

THE FOOL'S PRAYER

The royal feast was done, the king
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: "Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!"

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the monarch's silken stool.
His pleading voice arose: "O, Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

"No pity, Lord could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool,
The rod must heal the sin: but, Lord,
Be merciful to me a fool!

"Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O, Lord we stay;
Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.

"These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end'
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heartstrings of a friend.

"The ill-timed truth we might have kept --
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say --
Who knows how grandly it had rung?

"Our faults no tenderness should ask,
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders -- oh, in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.

"Earth bears no balsam for mistakes
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou O, Lord,
Be merciful to me a fool!"

The room was hushed; in silence rose
The king, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
"Be merciful to me, a fool!"

by Edward R. Sill, 1841 - 1887
American Poet


Court Jester, by Dan Rosenbluth
"They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore."


For more on the significance of foolishness,
see my recent blog post on the Quotidian Kit:
"What Shall He Tell That Son":

"Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools."

~Carl Sandburg


COME BACK FOR
Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, June 28, 2010

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

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