"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

Monday, November 28, 2022

Advent Wreath

Thanks to my friend Megan
for the card of PEACE

Yesterday was the First Sunday of Advent, the traditional starting point of the season of holiday anticipation. Advent Sunday is always the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is usually the Sunday immediately following Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving always falls between November 22nd & November 28th, with the First Sunday of Advent falling somewhere between November 27th and December 3rd. The charming daily Advent Calendars -- featuring magical doors, tiny surprises, booklets, pictures, chocolates -- always begin on December 1st, but the weekly Advent Candles began (this year) on November 27th. The timing is perfect: another Thanksgiving has been successfully written into the family history, and now begins the the countdown to Christmas!

Ellie says:
Goodbye Thanksgiving. Hello Christmas!

In his classic "Oratorio," W. H. Auden (1907- 73) captures the outsized sense of expectation that we inevitably bring to this time of year:
"For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. . . . "
Similary, Elizabeth Jennings (1926- 2001) compares the pre - Christmas excitement of a child to the post - Christmas reality of deflated expectations. Her poem moves from forethought / build - up to afterthought / let - down; and the concluding realizations ring just as true for adults as they do for children:

For weeks before it comes I feel excited, yet when it
At last arrives, things all go wrong:
My thoughts don't seem to fit.

I've planned what I'll give everyone and what they'll give to me,
and then on Christmas morning all
The presents seem to be

Useless and tarnished. I have dreamt that everything would come
To life—presents and people too.
Instead of that, I'm dumb.

And people say. 'How horrid! What a sulky little boy!'
And they are right. I can't seem pleased.
The lovely shining toy

I wanted so much when I saw it in a magazine
Seems pointless now. And Christmas too
No longer seems to mean

The hush, the star, the baby, people being kind again.
The bells are rung, sledges are drawn.
And peace on earth for them.

by Elizabeth Jennings
Whether or not Jennings was thinking of Advent, I like the way the final stanza echoes the characteristics of the four Advent candles:

the first candle represents hope & prophecy: "The hush"
the second candle represents peace & Bethlehem: "the star"
the third candle represents love & angels: "the baby"
the fourth candle represents joy & shepherds: "people being kind."

If you want to pull together an Advent wreath, there are numerous designs and color combinations to choose from, but all you really need are four candles that you love the look of, such as this Swedish set from my beloved, inspired and inspiring neighbor Virginia:
or this combination from 2018:
In 2016, I incorporated my brother Dave's hand - crafted Aggravation / Parcheesi / Trouble Game Board into my Advent Candle, lending to the medieval wagon wheel effect:
"The Advent wreath -- usually an evergreen wreath, with candles -- came to us directly from winter solstice celebrations when large wagon wheels were decorated with evergreens and lit candles to encourage the return of light" (p 48).

from Treat or Trick? Halloween in a Globalising World
by Malcolm Foley & Hugh O'Donnell
More Advent Ideas

More Poems by Elizabeth Jennings
This Colorful Friday
The Falling Fruit, The Certain Spring
Childhood Autumn
When I Said Autumnal Equinox
Secret Garden

More by Auden

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, December 14th

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Soul Shrinks: Wilbur & Whyte

" . . . a small opening into the new day . . . "

1. Scroll back eleven years
to Richard Wilbur's dreamy poem
"Love Calls Us to the Things of This World":

"The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn. . . .

The soul shrinks

From all that is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessed day . . ."


2. Now go back five Thanksgivings
to David Whyte's tender reminder of
"What To Remember When Waking":

"In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans. . . .

To be human is to become visible . . .
To remember the other world in this world
is to live . . . "

In very similar ways, these two poems describe the first few seconds of consciousness after a deep forgetful sleep. Whyte says the world of dreams is frightening; Wilbur finds the waking world astounding, and not always in a good way -- which is why the soul shrinks from it. Waking up is hard! It's all about remembering and starting over again, every day.

Nowhere is this daily repetition more vividly demonstrated than in the morning routine of Roy Scheider / Joe Gideon / Bob Fosse, as portrayed in the 1979 movie All that Jazz. He washes his face, puts drops in his eyes, takes a handful of meds, smacks his cheeks, looks in the mirror, and -- miraculously -- his soul appears, ready to accept the punishing reality of his relentless schedule: It's showtime!

Wilbur imagines the soul beginning each day "bodiless" before its descent and reunion with the physical body. Similarly, Whyte suggests the soul's movement from one state to another: "To be human is to become visible." However mystical and enriching our sleep may be, we are perpetually required to make the jagged transition from dreams to reality, to apply ourselves, to get back to work again, gathering our desires. It' showtime!

The morning light illuminates the "hunks and colors" and "shapes" of our earthly life, all those bulky obligations and responsibilities, all that quotidian laundry.

For Wilbur,

" . . the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world's hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body
. . . "

For Whyte,

"Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits
. . . "

In both poems, it is love, bitter or not, that calls us to the things of this world. Each narrator reveals a strategy for how to keep on loving the world, participating in the panorama, and writing about it. Whyte says, have a big plan, not a small plan; try not to feel uneasy; you belong here! Wilbur says, no it's not easy keeping our balance; it's difficult but also -- as he describes the laundry animated by the breeze -- joyful, angelic, delicate.

Photos of November Foliage
West Sussex, England

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, November 28th

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

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

Friday, October 28, 2022

Harvest Home

Over The Garden Wall

Charming Animated Series of
Vintage Pumpkin Heads

Click to watch:
Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee & Tome of the Unknown

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin . . .

Henry Alford (1810 – 1871)
Idyll VII. Harvest-Home

Now look, this road holds holiday to-day:
For banded brethren solemnize a feast
To richly-dight Demeter, thanking her
For her good gifts: since with no grudging hand
Hath the boon goddess filled the wheaten floors.
So come: the way, the day, is thine as mine . . .

. . who so glad as we?
A wealth of elm and poplar shook o'erhead;
Hard by, a sacred spring flowed gurgling on
From the Nymphs' grot, and in the sombre boughs
The sweet cicada chirped laboriously.
Hid in the thick thorn-bushes far away
The treefrog's note was heard; the crested lark
Sang with the goldfinch; turtles made their moan,
And o'er the fountain hung the gilded bee.
All of rich summer smacked, of autumn all:
Pears at our feet, and apples at our side
Rolled in luxuriance; branches on the ground
Sprawled, overweighed with damsons; while we brushed
From the cask's head the crust of four long years.
Say, ye who dwell upon Parnassian peaks . . .

As, ladies, ye bid flow that day for us
All by Demeter's shrine at harvest-home?
Beside whose cornstacks may I oft again
Plant my broad fan: while she stands by and smiles,
Poppies and cornsheaves on each laden arm.

Greek poet, born in Sicily
(born c. 300 BC, died after 260 BC)
New College Gardens, Oxford

On this old lawn, where lost hours pass
Across the shadows dark with dew,
Where autumn on the thick sweet grass
Has laid a weary leaf or two,
When the young morning, keenly sweet,
Breathes secrets to the silent air,
Happy are they whose lingering feet
May wander lonely there.

The enchantment of the dreaming limes,
The magic of the quiet hours,
Breathe unheard tales of other times
And other destinies than ours;

The feet that long ago walked here
Still, noiseless, walk beside our feet,
Poor ghosts, who found this garden dear,
And found the morning sweet!

Age weeps that it no more may hold
The heart-ache that youth clasps so close,
Pain finely shaped in pleasure's mould,
A thorn deep hidden in a rose.
Here is the immortal thorny rose
That may in no new garden grow--
Its root is in the hearts of those
Who walked here long ago.

Edith Nesbit (1858 – 1924)

Carpe diem!

Facebook food pics

Veggies & recipes

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, November 14th

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

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

Friday, October 14, 2022

One Long Staircase

The Golden Stair, 1880
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833 - 1898)

There would be one long staircase just going up
And one even longer coming down
And one more leading nowhere, just for show . . .

~ from Fiddler on the Roof

Believe it or not, we have actually lived in a couple of houses over the years that seemed to have staircases going nowhere, just for show. In our recent Indiana Victorian, for example, the front stairs and the back stairs met at exactly the same spot on the second floor landing, so it was not entirely clear what the extra stairs were for or how they had ever been useful. Yet, as it turned out, we went up and down the back stairs ten times a day, and rarely used the main stairs at all. Turns out the back stairs were incredibly useful and the front were just for show!

We decorated the wall over the front bannister with the above picture of a beautiful, showy staircase. The original hangs in the Tate, but I'm sure we purchased the poster from the museum shop at the Lady Lever Gallery, our favorite haven of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, in Port Sunlight, England. I never glanced at this ethereal painting without thinking of these otherworldly lyrics of the 1970s:
There's a lady who's sure
All that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for

And she's buying a stairway to heaven
There's a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
'Cause you know, sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook
There's a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven . . .

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all, yeah
To be a rock and not to roll
And she's buying a stairway to heaven

from Stairway to Heaven (1971)
by Led Zeppelin

Symphony in White, No. 1, 1861 - 62
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 - 1903)

"a lady . . . who shines white light . . . "

Symphony in White, No. 2, 1864-65
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 - 1903)

See also
Symphony in White, No. 3
paintings at the Frick
And previous posts:
To See A Fine Picture
Going Barefoot
Kitchen Art
Complication and Plenitude

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, October 28th

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

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Complication and Plenitude

The Dandelion Clock
William John Hennessy (1839 - 1917)

Dandelions . . . or Michaelmas Daisies?
And, in keeping with the observation of Michaelmas
on September 29th, I like to read the following as
"Late September" . . .
"Late August brought with it a longing for fall. By the end of the month the grass was brown, singed by days of heat and no rain. Mirella's impatiens, usually a bright pink and red mound on either side of the back doorstep, were small and lack luster. The air smelled strangely of basalt and car exhaust, and of marine life flung up on the beaches by the tide and cooked by the sun. . . . With so much wanting came all the promise and damage of the world" (295, 298)

" 'Listen to me, Howard. You and Mirella are adults. The lives of adults are complicated and generally somehow bad.'

" 'Thanks,' said Howard, surprised to find this observation reassuring. . . . somehow in the end everything in his life would still happen to him.

"Mirella wondered if what she herself had been forgetting all this time, for years and years, was that none of this would last very long, that all of this, the terrible desirable, exhausting plenitude of her life -- the children, Howard, this house, her job -- all of her worries and failures and abilities and cares, all of it mattered so dearly, but so briefly, and that it was all in a way nearly over, even the part of her life that were still to come." (301)

from A Perfect Arrangement
by Suzanne Berne
[see also Longly, Nanny, 2003, Houses]

Also by Hennessy . . . It's complicated . . .
The Pride of Dijon 1879
William John Hennessy (1839 - 1917)

Just when I think I may have finished my review of paintings that we enjoyed every day on the walls of our old Victorian house, I seem to recall a few more favorites. The two above by Hennessy were in our dining room; and the two below were in the kitchen. I don't know how we managed to fit them all in, but somehow we were always finding space in our ever - expanding design scheme of complication and plenitude!

Flower Pots 1887
Paul Cezanne (1839 - 1906)

Hollyhocks, 1911
Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874 - 1939

Next Time: More Ladies in White Dresses
Previously: To See A Fine Picture
Going Barefoot
Kitchen Art

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, October 14th

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

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Kitchen Art

At Breakfast 1898
Lauritz Andersen Ring (1854 – 1933)

A few ~ more small prints lost in the diaspora.
I loved seeing these scattered around my kitchen:
contemplative coffee hours, shared teatimes,
and elegant household interiors.

The Morning Paper

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition
is the best
for by evening you know that you at least
have lived through another day)
and let the disasters, the unbelievable
yet approved decisions
soak in.

I don't need to name the countries,
ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Mary Oliver (1935 - 2019)
from her book A Thousand Mornings
The Breakfast, 1911
William McGregor Paxton (1869 - 1941)

Every Morning

I read the papers,
I unfold them and examine them in the sunlight.
The way the red mortars, in photographs,
arc down into the neighborhoods
like stars, the way death
combs everything into a gray rubble before
the camera moves on. What
dark part of my soul
shivers: you don’t want to know more
about this. And then: you don’t know anything
unless you do. How the sleepers
wake and run to the cellars,
how the children scream, their tongues
trying to swim away—
how the morning itself appears
like a slow white rose
while the figures climb over the bubbled thresholds,
move among the smashed cars, the streets
where the clanging ambulances won’t
stop all day—death and death, messy death—
death as history, death as a habit—
how sometimes the camera pauses while a family
counts itself, and all of them are alive,
their mouths dry caves of wordlessness
in the smudged moons of their faces,
a craziness we have so far no name for—
all this I read in the papers,
in the sunlight,
I read with my cold, sharp eyes.

by Mary Oliver

Additional Favorites ~ All By Paxton
Tea Leaves, 1909

The House Maid, 1910

The New Necklace, 1910

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, September 28th

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

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