Poem of the Week

 

The First Snow

By james Russell Lowell

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
   And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
   With a silence deep and white.

Every pine and fir and hemlock
   Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
   Was ridged inch deep with pearl.

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
   Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan’s-down,
   And still fluttered down the snow.

I stood and watched by the window
   The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
   Like brown leaves whirling by.

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
   Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
   As did robins the babes in the wood.

Up spoke our own little Mabel,
   Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-father
   Who cares for us here below.

Again I looked at the snow-fall,
   And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
   When that mound was heaped so high.

I remembered the gradual patience
   That fell from that cloud-like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
   The scar of our deep-plunged woe.

And again to the child I whispered,
   “The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
   Alone can make it fall!”

Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
   And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
   Folded close under deepening snow.

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Poem of the Week

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October Paint

By Carl Sandberg

Flame blue wisps in the west,
Wrap yourselves in these leaves
And speak to winter about us.
Tell winter the whole story.

Red leaves up the oaken slabs,
You came little and green spats
Four months ago; your climbers
Put scroll after scroll around
The oaken slabs, “Red, come red,”
Some one with an October paint
Pot said, And here you are,
Fifty red arrowheads of leaf paint
Or fifty mystic fox footprints
Or fifty pointed thumbprints.
Hold on, the winds are to come
Blowing, blowing, the gray slabs
Will lose you, the winds will
Flick you away in a whiff
One by one, two by two… Yet
I have heard a rumor whispered;
Tattlers tell it to each other
Like a secret everybody knows…
Next year you will come again.
Up the oaken slabs you will put
Your pointed fox footprints
Green in the early summer
And you will be red arrowheads
In the falltime… Tattlers
Slip this into each other’s ears
Like a secret everybody knows.
… If I see some one with an
October paint pot I shall be
Full of respect and say,
“I saw your thumbprints everywhere,
How do you do it?”

Poem of the Week

October

by Robert Frost
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

Poem of the Week

Further in Summer than the Birds

By Emily Dickinson

Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify

Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now

Poem of the Week

Doors

By Carl Sandburg
An open door says, “Come in.”
A shut door says, “Who are you?”
Shadows and ghosts go through shut doors.
If a door is shut and you want it shut,
     why open it?
If a door is open and you want it open,
     why shut it?
Doors forget but only doors know what it is
     doors forget.

The Age of Innocence

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My friend Bill and I choose a novel to read and discuss online. This time it’s Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, which I find vexing. Published in 1921, Age of Innocence is a look back at New York society of the late 19th century’s wealthy class. It starts with the main character, Newland Archer a callow, complaining young man, who fancies himself superior to all around him. He takes no serious interest in his work or any endeavor. When Newland is about to announce his engagement to the pretty and docile May Welland, her exotic cousin Countess Ellen Olenska appears fleeing Europe and her aristocratic, boorish, brute of a husband. Soon Newland is captivated.

Most of the story is about Newland’s infatuation with the passionate Ellen, whom he’s willing to desert his young wife May for. Ellen goes back and forth between tempting and repelling Newland.

Much of the book consists of Newland’s thoughts on how awful New York society is. This slice of the upper crust is insulated and vapid and it’s easy for Newland, who doesn’t realize he’s no better, looks down on all around him. He’s cultivated no friendships. Unlike many of his era, he doesn’t strike out on his own creating new ventures or exploring new interests. For the most part he spends his time mentally criticizing May and plotting to find time to spend with Ellen, who under her surface of panache doesn’t seem to offer much substance that’s original or creative. She’s a flibbertigibbet in a Worth gown.

While Welty has a knack for wit and description, she aims at a view of a past society that excludes its finer points, such as charity and inventiveness. I wish she had taken a shot at her own era more directly and that she had included at least a couple characters I could admire. Because it featured so much sniping at tedious, stereotypical characters I found the book a chore to get through.

Poem of the Week

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Dog Around the Block

by E. B. White

Dog around the block, sniff,
Hydrant sniffing, corner, grating,
Sniffing, always, starting forward,
Backward, dragging, sniffing backward,
Leash at taut, leash at dangle,
Leash in people’s feet entangle—
Sniffing dog, apprised of smellings,
Love of life, and fronts of dwellings,
Meeting enemies,
Loving old acquaintance, sniff,
Sniffing hydrant for reminders,
Leg against the wall, raise,
Leaving grating, corner greeting,
Chance for meeting, sniff, meeting,
Meeting, telling, news of smelling,
Nose to tail, tail to nose,
Rigid, careful, pose,
Liking, partly liking, hating,
Then another hydrant, grating,
Leash at taut, leash at dangle,
Tangle, sniff, untangle,
Dog around the block, sniff.