Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Waiting for Childhood as We Wait for Form

Congratulations to Richard and Aimee on the birth of their son yesterday!

Jeebus, when he is Planet's age it will be 2037, when he is my age it will be 2070. 2070. What world?

Hey, Second Draft, sadly, serendipitously, partly about the other end of life:


Muriel Rukeyser

Lately having escaped three-kinded death
Not by evasion but by coming through
I celebrate what may be true beginning.
But new begun am most without resource
Stupid and stopped.      How do the newborn grow?
I am of them.      Freshness has taken our hearts;
Pain strips us to the source, infants of further life
Waiting for childhood as we wait for form.    

So came I into the world of all the living,
The maimed triumphant middle of my way
Where there is giving needing no forgetting.
Saw not the present that is here to say:
Nothing I wrote is what I must see written,
Nothing I did is what I know need done. --
The smile of darkness on my song and my son.

Lately emerged I have seen unfounded houses,
Have seen spirits now opened, surrounded as by sun,
And have, among limitless consensual faces
Watched all things change, an unbuilt house inherit
Materials of desire, that stone and wood and air.
Lit by a birth, I defend dark beginnings,
Waste that is never waste, most-human giving,
Declared and clear as the mortal body of grace.
Beginnings of truth-in-life, the rooms of wilderness
Where truth feeds and the ramifying heart,
Ever mine, praising even the past in its pieces,
My tearflesh beckoner who brought me to this place.


  1. What a beautiful baby--so happy for his safe arrival.

    1. Between this new one and a colleagues now fully interactive eight month old daughter I'm so deeply nostalgic for my little one (now 22) it's stunning me. I loved it. I can wait to be a grandfather until she's ready to be a mother, but I can't wait to be a grandfather.

  2. The Children's Hour

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    Between the dark and the daylight,
    When the night is beginning to lower,
    Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
    That is known as the Children's Hour.

    I hear in the chamber above me
    The patter of little feet,
    The sound of a door that is opened,
    And voices soft and sweet.

    From my study I see in the lamplight,
    Descending the broad hall stair,
    Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
    And Edith with golden hair.

    A whisper, and then a silence:
    Yet I know by their merry eyes
    They are plotting and planning together
    To take me by surprise.

    A sudden rush from the stairway,
    A sudden raid from the hall!
    By three doors left unguarded
    They enter my castle wall!

    They climb up into my turret
    O'er the arms and back of my chair;
    If I try to escape, they surround me;
    They seem to be everywhere.

    They almost devour me with kisses,
    Their arms about me entwine,
    Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
    In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

    Do you think, o blue-eyed banditi,
    Because you have scaled the wall,
    Such an old mustache as I am
    Is not a match for you all!

    I have you fast in my fortress,
    And will not let you depart,
    But put you down into the dungeon
    In the round-tower of my heart.

    And there will I keep you forever,
    Yes, forever and a day,
    Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
    And moulder in dust away!!

    [published 1860]

    Our friends at Wikipedia tell us:

    By the early 20th century, "The Children's Hour" became one of the poems most frequently taught in American schools. In 1924, for example, one study noted it was often taught in grades 3 to 6. Educator R. L. Lyman, who conducted the study, found it problematic, writing that the poem, "in vocabulary, allusion and atmosphere," was not an appropriate choice and concluded, "'The Children's Hour' is a true poem about children; it is not, as we have assumed, a poem primarily for children." "The Children's Hour" has remained one of the most frequently cited favorite American poems.

    More recently, the poem has been called overly-sentimental, as have many of Longfellow's works. Scholar Richard Ruland, for example, warns that modern readers might find it "not only simple and straightforward, but perhaps saccharine overly emotional", though he concludes it is a successful poem. Scholar Matthew Gartner, however, uses the poem as an example of how Longfellow invited his readers into his private home life in New England to refine them and teach them lessons on virtue.

    Gartner, Matthew. "Longfellow's Place: The Poet and Poetry of Craigie House" in The New England Quarterly. Vol. 73, No. 1 (March 2000): 33.

    a personal note - Longfellow is my nth cousin, x times removed, n+x less than or equal to 12

    1. our friends at wikipedia have been a little sloppy - the quote from ruland bothered me enough to sign up for a JSTOR free account (which has extremely limited privileges - i can read 3 articles every two weeks - of course one has the opportunity to get a paid account with more access) - the actual wording in the original is "not only simple and straightforward, but perhaps saccharine AND overly emotional"

      ruland avers that while longfellow is a minor poet, "he is a minor poet of impressive versatility and skill" - and that "the sonnets remain Longfellow's most impressive achievement"

      ruland contrasts longfellow with whitman, and points to what the latter wrote after hearing of longfellow's death

      Longfellow in his voluminous works seems to me not only to be eminent in the style and forms of poetical expression that mark the present age, (an idiosyncrasy, almost a sickness, of verbal melody,) but to bring what is always dearest as poetry to the general human heart and taste, and probably must be so in the nature of things. He is certainly the sort of bard and counteractant most needed for our materialistic, self-assertive, money-worshipping, Anglo-Saxon races, and especially for the present age in America—an age tyrannically regulated with reference to the manufacturer, the merchant, the financier, the politician and the day workman—for whom and among whom he comes as the poet of melody, courtesy, deference—poet of the mellow twilight of the past in Italy, Germany, Spain, and in Northern Europe—poet of all sympathetic gentleness—and universal poet of women and young people. I should have to think long if I were ask'd to name the man who has done more, and in more valuable directions, for America.

      I doubt if there ever was before such a fine intuitive judge and selecter of poems. His translations of many German and Scandinavian pieces are said to be better than the vernaculars. He does not urge or lash. His influence is like good drink or air. He is not tepid either, but always vital, with flavor, motion, grace. He strikes a splendid average, and does not sing exceptional passions, or humanity's jagged escapades. He is not revolutionary, brings nothing offensive or new, does not deal hard blows. On the contrary, his songs soothe and heal, or if they excite, it is a healthy and agreeable excitement. His very anger is gentle, is at second hand, (as in the "Quadroon Girl" and the "Witnesses.")

      There is no undue element of pensiveness in Longfellow's strains. Even in the early translation, the Manrique, the movement is as of strong and steady wind or tide, holding up and buoying. Death is not avoided through his many themes, but there is something almost winning in his original verses and renderings on that dread subject—as, closing "the Happiest Land" dispute,

      And then the landlord's daughter
      Up to heaven rais'd her hand,
      And said, "Ye may no more contend,
      There lies the happiest land."

      To the ungracious complaint-charge of his want of racy nativity and special originality, I shall only say that America and the world may well be reverently thankful—can never be thankful enough—for any such singing-bird vouchsafed out of the centuries, without asking that the notes be different from those of other songsters; adding what I have heard Longfellow himself say, that ere the New World can be worthily original, and announce herself and her own heroes, she must be well saturated with the originality of others, and respectfully consider the heroes that lived before Agamemnon.

      the reference is to a line from horace:

      Many heroes lived before Agamemnon, but they are all unmourned, and consigned to oblivion, because they had no bard to sing their praises—Horace

    2. ruland says whitman has, in speaking of longfellow, been as charitable as possible, and points also to whitman's characterization elsewhere of "the poetry of the future", which is true of whitman in particular

      The poetry of the future, (a phrase open to sharp criticism, and not satisfactory to me, but significant, and I will use it)—the poetry of the future aims at the free expression of emotion, (which means far, far more than appears at first,) and to arouse and initiate, more than to define or finish. Like all modern tendencies, it has direct or indirect reference continually to the reader, to you or me, to the central identity of everything, the mighty Ego....It is more akin, likewise, to outside life and landscape, ... real sun and gale, and woods and shores—to the elements themselves—not sitting at ease in parlor or library listening to a good tale of them, told in good rhyme.

      the "sitting at ease in parlor" might well be listening to longfellow's poetry, ruland suggests

  3. the other end of life

    The only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as part of something greater: a family, a community, a society. If you don’t, mortality is only a horror. But if you do, it is not. Loyalty, said philosopher Josiah Royce, “solves the paradox of our ordinary existence by showing us outside of ourselves the cause which is to be served, and inside of ourselves the will which delights to do this service, and which is not thwarted but enriched and expressed in such service.”

    from BEING MORTAL: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

    1. note that in celebrating the "children's hour", longfellow does not shy from explicitly mentioning old age and death - "till the walls shall crumble to ruin, and moulder to dust away"

      i am reminded of the strawberry in the buddhist parable - "how sweet it tasted"

      "happily ever after" means "for the rest of one's days" or "'till the end of one's personal time", not "'till the end of ALL time"

      there were many heroes that lived before agamemnon

  4. the Bishop of Bingen In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine