“The Animals” / Muir


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The Animals

They do not live in the world,
Are not in time and space.
From birth to death hurled
No word do they have, not one
To plant a foot upon,
Were never in any place.

For with names the world was called
Out of the empty air,
With names was built and walled,
Line and circle and square,
Dust and emerald;
Snatched from deceiving death
By the articulate breath.

But these have never trod
Twice the familiar track,
Never never turned back
Into the memoried day.
All is new and near
In the unchanging Here
Of the fifth great day of God,
That shall remain the same,
Never shall pass away.

On the sixth day we came.


Poem published originally in Part I of Edwin Muir’s 1956 collection, One Foot in Eden. I’m reading it in Edwin Muir: Collected Poems 1921 – 1958, 1984 edition (1960).

As mentioned in the previous post, Muir was a Scottish poet; he was born and spent his childhood on Orkney, the island archipelago north of Scotland’s mainland. Thus he is called a Scottish Orcadian poet. Most of his life however, was spent on the (European) continent, in England, and in the vicinities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland.

The problem (if it may be called that) of time engaged Muir’s observations as a persistent backdrop throughout his life, his perspective on it and on our relationship to it evolving through the years. Especially occupying his poetic imagination was our lives’ inherent paradoxes, and the conflicts and contradictions operating within and without us; the poet felt their impact acutely in his life’s diverse experiences.
Muir’s poetry truly blossomed in his later life: all the preceding exacting work in prose, criticism, translation, and earlier poetic efforts, the relationships he forged over years of varied employment, his lifelong sensitivity to life’s personal and social exigencies, all this experience came to slowly coalesce in his poetry during the last quarter of his life, when he was finally able to give this work more concentrated attention. (For some reason it’s considered unusual for a poet to really ‘come into his own’, to write his best poetry, later in life. I’m not sure why this should be; it seems to me that it takes a good part of a lifetime to gain the experience, technical skills, and understanding that would go into great poems. The Muirs spent much of their lives in various locations on the continent, never distant from the colossal political and social upheavals of the 30s and 40s. Working in Prague as Director of the British Institute there, he was in the midst of the February 1948 Communist putsch wherein “…a people whom Muir had seen forgetting the fears bred by the German Occupation were once again engulfed in an atmosphere of terror and mutual suspicion…The atmosphere of hostility and fear was shattering to him. Many of his friends fled the country; others were imprisoned; for those that remained and were at large he could do nothing since contact with him would be dangerous to them.” (from Peter Butter’s biography of Muir, Edwin Muir: Man and Poet, 1966) After finally leaving Prague both he and, particularly, his wife succumbed to a many-weeks-long period of illness. In a 1948 letter to a friend Muir writes, “…I feel at present that I would like leagues and leagues of leisure, for as one gets older the questions that life asks seem to become vaster and vaster and stretch into endlessness. I have got some comfort in the last few weeks in the thought that there is forgiveness in the universe, that everything is not a mere play of forces and wills: I am beginning to understand faintly the Christian idea of forgiveness, very faintly, for it is surely one of the greatest of all ideas…” (quoted in Butter, 213).


“The Debtor” / Muir


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The Debtor

I am debtor to all, to all am I bounden,
Fellowman and beast, season and solstice, darkness and light,
And life and death. On the backs of the dead,
See, I am borne, on lost errands led,
By spent harvests nourished. Forgotten prayers
To gods forgotten bring blessings upon me.
Rusted arrow and broken bow, look, they preserve me
Here in this place. The never-won stronghold
That sank in the ground as the years into time,
Slowly with all its men steadfast and watching,
Keeps me safe now. The ancient waters
Cleanse me, revive me. Victor and vanquished
Give me their passion, their peace and the field.
The meadows of Lethe shed twilight around me.
The dead in their silences keep me in memory,
Have me in hold. To all I am bounden.


Edwin Muir, 1887 – 1959, Scottish poet (writing mainly in English), literary critic, translator and novelist. “The Debtor” was published in his 1949 collection, The Labyrinth; I am reading it in Collected Poems 1921 – 1958, 1984 edition (original edition 1960) put together by J. C. Hall and Willa Muir. I’m grateful to the editors of The Heath Introduction to Poetry (3rd. ed., 1988) for including four of Muir’s poems in their selection: I had never heard of this poet before encountering him there, and reading him now I have the strangest feeling that my entire life heretofore has been preparing me for this discovery. Have you ever felt something of this sort? I am not a poet, and the outward circumstances of my life are entirely different from Muir’s, yet I feel myself taken up in a sort of inner entrainment alongside him, as though on a tide of understanding, of affinity, that is ever moving along, outside of time. This may change, of course, as I get to know his work better, but that’s my first impression.

Over the summer I’ll post a couple more of Muir’s poems, and will say a bit more about him, based on Peter Butter’s biography, Edwin Muir: Man and Poet. In the meantime you can access a great summary (very readable and not too long) of his life and work at:

In Greek mythology, Lethe was one of the five rivers of the underworld of Hades: drinking its water caused complete forgetfulness in the drinker. Lethe was also the name of the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion, with whom the river was often identified. (source: Wikipedia)

I found two definitions usually given:
1. in archaic usage, it is the past participle of to bind (now we use bound)
2. in somewhat more current usage (probably on its way to becoming archaic too), it’s an adjective, meaning indebted, beholden; and based on that same root,

to bind: tie, fasten; attach to / on; fasten or hold together;
(passive voice) to be obligatory; be required by duty / moral or legal obligation to do something
(active) to exercise authority, impose constraint or duty upon; put in bonds, restrain
So I’ve given this feeling of being bounden / beholden some thought, and mostly have come up with unanswerable questions. Will spare you the page-long cogitations, but here is the (so far) closest approach to my conclusion:

Ok. Muir felt himself to be bounden.
But whether or not we feel this way about our own lives makes little difference: we pay, regardless. We pay with our lives. All the livings and dyings of our lives are what they (our lives) cost us. But, though the debt may be felt by us to be to what / to whom is behind, to whom / what has come before, get this: the actual payment of the debt . . . is forward! Yes! Surely that’s how it is. We pay off our debt to what is behind by paying forward into what is arriving, what is yet to come.
Wow, crazy. Time having some fun with us: binding the past and the future together, by way of us.

“Mrs Malone” / Farjeon


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Mrs Malone

Mrs Malone
Lived hard by a wood
All on her lonesome
As nobody should.
With her crust on a plate
And her pot on the coal
And none but herself
To converse with, poor soul.
In a shawl and a hood
She got sticks out-o’-door,
On a bit of old sacking
She slept on the floor,
And nobody, nobody
Asked how she fared
Or knew how she managed,
For nobody cared.
Why make a pother
About an old crone?
What for should they bother
With Mrs Malone?

One Monday in winter
With snow on the ground
So thick that a footstep
Fell without sound,
She heard a faint frostbitten
Peck on the pane
And went to the window
To listen again.
There sat a cock-sparrow
Bedraggled and weak
With half-open eyelid
And ice on his beak.
She threw up the sash
And she took the bird in,
And mumbled and fumbled it
Under her chin.
“Ye’re all of a smother,
Ye’re fair overblown!
I’ve room fer another,”
Said Mrs Malone.

Come Tuesday while eating
Her dry morning slice
With the sparrow a-picking
(“Ain’t company nice!”)
She heard on her doorpost
A curious scratch,
And there was a cat
With its claw on the latch.
It was hungry and thirsty
And thin as a lath,
It mewed and it mowed
On the slithery path.
She threw the door open
And warmed up some pap,
And huddled and cuddled it
In her old lap.
“There, there, little brother,
Ye poor skin-an’-bone,
There’s room fer another,”
Said Mrs Malone.

Come Wednesday while all of them
Crouched on the mat
With a crumb for the sparrow,
A sip for the cat,
There was wailing and whining
Outside in the wood,
And there sat a vixen
With six of her brood.
She was haggard and ragged
And worn to a shred,
And her half-dozen babies
Were only half-fed,
But Mrs Malone, crying
“My! ain’t they sweet!”
Happed them and lapped them
And gave them to eat.
“You warm yourself, mother,
Ye’re cold as a stone!
There’s room fer another,”
Said Mrs Malone.

Come Thursday a donkey
Stepped in off the road
With sores on his withers
From bearing a load.
Come Friday when icicles
Pierced the white air
Down from the mountainside
Lumbered a bear.
For each she had something,
If little, to give—
“Lord knows, the poor critters
Must all of ’em live.”
She gave them her sacking,
Her hood and her shawl,
Her loaf and her teapot—
She gave them her all.
“What with one thing and t’other
Me fambily’s grown,
And there’s room fer another,”
Said Mrs Malone.

Come Saturday evening
When time was to sup
Mrs Malone
Had forgot to sit up.
The cat said meeow,
And the sparrow said peep,
The vixen, she’s sleeping,
The bear, let her sleep.
On the back of the donkey
They bore her away,
Through trees and up mountains
Beyond night and day,
Till come Sunday morning
They brought her in state
Through the last cloudbank
As far as the Gate.
“Who is it,” asked Peter,
You have with you there?”
And donkey and sparrow,
Cat, vixen and bear

Exclaimed, “Do you tell us
Up here she’s unknown?
It’s our mother, God bless us!
It’s Mrs Malone
Whose havings were few
And whose holding was small
And whose heart was so big
It had room for us all.”
Then Mrs Malone
Of a sudden awoke,
She rubbed her two eyeballs
And anxiously spoke:
“Where am I, to goodness,
And what do I see?
My dears, let’s turn back,
This ain’t no place fer me!”
But Peter said, “Mother
Go in to the Throne.
There’s room fer another
One, Mrs Malone.”


Eleanor Farjeon, 1881-1965, English author of short stories, novels, plays, history, works of satire, and many poems, is among the most important of children’s writers of the twentieth century. Awards received included the Carnegie Medal and the inaugural Hans Christian Andersen Medal, as well as the inaugural Regina Medal of the United States-based Catholic Library Association. In 1966, the Children’s Book Circle, a society of publishers, founded the Eleanor Farjeon Award to recognize outstanding service of the often unsung heroes who contribute to any aspect of the world of children’s books in Britain.

I found “Mrs Malone” in Farjeon’s Blackbird Has Spoken: Selected Poems for Children (1999), an attentive compilation, with Introduction, by anthologist and producer of literary programs, Anne Harvey. Its 144 pages make a smallish book, but it abounds with treasures (including “A Morning Song: For the First Day of Spring”, popularly known as “Morning Has Broken”). The poems all reveal a generous, wise and caring personality, with great sensitivity to the natural world and the human’s place within it.

“Mrs Malone” is a simple and elegant example of narrative poetry, . . . a form of poetry that tells a story, often making the voices of a narrator and characters as well; the entire story is usually written in metered verse. (en.wikipedia.org)

“Root Cellar” / Roethke


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Root Cellar

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!—
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.


Source: The Heath Introduction to Poetry 3rd ed. 1988.
Includes 26-page Preface, On Poetry, by the Editor, Joseph de Roche, which covers a lot of ground about poetry’s stylistic elements and their use and development over the centuries. In its last paragraph he writes:
The novelist E. M. Forster once suggested we should think of writers not as men and women locked into different centuries, but as men and women sitting around a table carrying on a living conversation . . . Not everyone, after all, becomes our close friend. Nonetheless, the more we open our lives to experience, the richer our lives become. The more poets and poems we come to understand, the livelier the world becomes, no matter what century they, or we, have been fated to live in.
This is an older collection, but truly inspired in its selections of English-language poetry ranging from the 8th century to the end of the 20th. Many poets are represented in six temporal / historical sections, each often by several poems. (Approaching the 20th and 21st centuries, increasing numbers of writers are portrayed.) Each period is introduced by a short summary, A Brief History, about the relevant stylistic and historical context. Among the most illuminating collections I’ve had the pleasure of encountering.

Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963) was, in the opinion of some of his more-or-less contemporaries (including novelist and one-time U.S. Poet Laureate, James Dickey, writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1968), the greatest poet the United States had produced to date.
Though he was not as prolific as many of his peers (in part because he was also a devoted, influential and beloved teacher of poetry), Roethke’s verse is carefully crafted and continually strives to embody his wide and often unbearably intense experience of the ecstasy and anguish of living. He was relentlessly, vitally human, with a great appreciation for all life, and all facets of life.
The impact made on him by his youthful experiences of assisting in his family’s greenhouse business were among the first to profoundly and lastingly influence his life and work. Poet Richard Blessing’s impression of Roethke’s œvre, as reflecting the correspondences of the world of the greenhouse to the human being’s inner world:
The sensual world of the greenhouse is the first garden from which we have all emerged, and the attempt to make meaning of it, to recall the energies of that place occupies us all in the lonely chill of our adult beds. . . (We comprehend that) life is dynamic, not static; that the energy of the moment from the past preserves it, in part, in the present; that experience is a continuum, not a collection of dead instants preserved and pinned on walls we have left behind. (via poetryfoundation.org)

Roethke was recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, two National Book Awards, and a Bollingen Prize.
(The Bollingen Prize is awarded every two years for the best volume of poetry by an American published during those years, or for a poet’s lifetime achievement in his or her art. Launched in 1948 and originally conferred by the Library of Congress, the prize is now administered by the Yale University Library. The Bollingen Foundation’s name was philanthropists’ Paul and Mary Mellon’s way of honoring C. G. Jung, who had a country retreat near a Swiss village called Bollingen.)

This collection contains 7 poems by Roethke, including what is probably his best-known, “In a Dark Time”. I must not start making a habit of these post ‘extensions’, but will quote just one verse from this 4-verse poem (if only to make clear to the reader that Roethke wrote about much more than plant life):

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

—“In a Dark Time”, excerpt

«Die Poesie» / Goethe


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Die Poesie

Gott sandte seinen rohen Kindern
Gesetz und Ordnung, Wissenschaft und Kunst,
Begabte die mit aller Himmelsgunst
Der Erde grasses Los zu mindern.
Sie kamen nackt vom Himmel an
Und wussten sich nicht zu benehmen;
Die Poesie zog ihnen Kleider an,
Und keine hatte sich zu schämen.


In Goethe Gedichte II: Gedankenlyrik; Westöstlicher Diwan, 1982, Diogenes Taschenbuch 20438.



God sent his rough-hewn, hapless children
Law and Order, Learning, Art,
Bestowing on them all of heaven’s favours
To lighten for them striving earth’s grim lot.

Unclad they came from heaven, and
Unsure as to their nature or which part to play . . .
Then Poetry arrayed their frames in fitting garb—
And Shame? She blanched and crept away!


Perhaps especially in the case of poetry, interpretation happens simultaneously and inevitably with this process of rendering lines of words into another language, i.e., translation. I hope I’ve done some justice to Goethe’s verse, however verbosely and rather loosely. Thanks to the good folks at LEO.org for help with that chameleony grass.


Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 1749-1832, is generally considered Germany’s greatest and most influential literary figure of the modern era. Foremost a writer of epic and lyric poetry, he was also playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic, and prolific amateur artist. There are many sources online concerning Goethe and his legacy; I have accessed a thoroughly readable summary of his life and work, and their social and literary contexts, at Britannica.com. It is written by Nicholas Boyle, updated August 2015 (accessed March 2017). Please read if you want to get a good feel for the scope of Goethe’s stature and accomplishments. An excerpt, from towards the end of the piece:

If there is a single theme running through Goethe’s huge and varied literary output, it is his reflection on subjectivity—his showing how in ever-changing ways we make our own selves, the world we inhabit, and the meaning of our lives. Yet he also shows how, without leaving that self-made world, we collide all the time with the reality of things. Ultimately, Goethe believes, this reality is not alien or hostile to us, because, whatever it is, we—and our capacity for experience—ultimately derive from it too. Goethe therefore calls it Nature, that out of which we are born.

All right, so hold on . . . This “reality of things” just mentioned: so there is an “I” and there are “things” . . . My thinking is that each of these things is a subjectivity in itself, just like I am, whether it be animal, vegetable, mineral. What is “Nature” but a thronging mass of subjectivities?
We humans seem, in our very humanity, to endlessly attempt to seek out objectivity, some measure of it at least; we call this seeking the truth. Whether through immersion in nature, in scientific pursuit, philosophy, art, theology / religion / spirituality / mysticism—even travel, reading, relationships—we seek the same “thing”, with greater or lesser awareness of our aspiration. Poetry / poesy itself is, at its heart, a tool we employ to try to touch, to comprehend, some objective truth in this life . . . yet the final mystery remains, always remains. So do we also seek comfort in truth? I think we must do. And will we find it? . . . And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time . . . / And all shall be well and / All manner of thing shall be well . . . (T. S. Eliot, in “Little Gidding”)
I guess that’s where hope comes in. (Though Eliot has a thing or two to say about that, too. For another day.)

Decades ago, I came across the following line that appears in Goethe’s tragic play / epic poem, Faust, Part Two. It occurs in a pivotal conversation between Faust and Mephistopheles*, though I don’t know the exact context. It is spoken by Mephistopheles:
Gestaltung, Umgestaltung,
Des ewigen Sinnes ewige Unterhaltung.

(Formation, transformation, / Eternal Mind’s eternal occupation.) (der Sinn is hard to translate; it can mean sense, meaning, consciousness, memory, intellect. The word mind would not normally be capitalized in English, but I’ve taken the liberty of doing that.)
Asking your indulgence, dear reader, I quote this line for you because, though my knowledge of the German language is weak, these words have stayed with me, teasing me with a measure of truth, and mystery, through the years.

*Mephistopheles is a representative of Lucifer / Satan. There are many ways to interpret his action in the play, as well as the work’s final outcome—which may well offer redemption after the tragedy has played itself out.

«Neige, neige blanche» / comptine traditionelle


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Neige, neige blanche

Neige, neige blanche
Tombe sur les manches
Et sur mon tout petit nez
Qui est tout gelé.

Neige, neige blanche
Tombe sur ma tête
Et sur mes tout gros souliers
Qui sont tout mouillés.

Neige, neige blanche,
Viens que je te mange:
Pose-toi tout doucement
Comme un p’tit fondant.


A traditional French children’s song.
Honestly, such songs must be the best way to learn a (new) language: vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, even heart—it’s all there.

Source: Les plus belles comptines de Noël 2009; de la collection «Succès», Les Éditions Éveil & Découvertes.
CD included in this colourful 26-page book. Illustrators: Francesca Assirelli, Martina Peluso. Musical arrangements: Collectif Enfance.
For younger children, I can also strongly recommend a small but beautiful board book + CD with 20 comptines. It too is called «Les plus belles comptines de Noël», produced by Formulette; éditeur Jeunesse, 2014. Its producer/creator is Rémi Guichard; the songs are also interpreted by Rémi, along with les ateliers chansons d’Auxerre; illustrations by Marie-Pierre Tiffoin. (In fact, the music on this CD is quieter, gentler than on the first one mentioned. The selection of songs is somewhat similar, but I’d say, with more variety in the presentation.)

«Neige, neige blanche»—la mélodie (solfège):

do (do) sol (sol) mi — re —
do (do) sol sol mi — re —
sol sol la la ti ti do —
sol fa mi re do — — —

“Tale” / Merwin


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After many winters the moss
finds the sawdust crushed bark chips
and says old friend
old friend


This lyric fragment appears as epigraph to W. S. Merwin‘s longer poem, “Unchopping a Tree“. This latter, republished in 2014 (originally collected in The Miner’s Pale Children), takes the form of a lovely little stand-alone book of the same title. The work is illustrated by drawings of artist Liz Ward: her exquisite studies of the cellular structures of trees are created with silverpoint and tinted gesso on paper and on panel. Created over 14 years, this little art collection is titled, The Interior Life of a Tree.

(On completing the book, I discovered that the lines of “Tale” quoted above are actually excerpted from a longer prose poem; and that this same excerpt first appeared in the 1970 collection, The Carrier of Ladders, which work earned Merwin the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.)

A prolific and respected poet, and translator from many languages, Merwin has received a commensurate degree of recognition throughout his life. Just a few of these honours: the inauguratory Wallace Stevens Award (also known as the Dorothea Tanning Prize, one of the highest honours bestowed by the Academy of American Poets); the National Book Award for Poetry; the Pen Translation Prize; the Bollingen Prize for Poetry; the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (an initiative of the Poetry Foundation, this is one of the most prestigious awards given to American poets and among the largest literary honors for work in the English language). He has twice received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and has served as the United States Poet Laureate. In 2013, he was named the first Poet Laureate of the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award (Warsaw).

Merwin has resolutely addressed various themes in his writing. One of his most abiding passions has been a love for the natural world and a commitment to a “deep ecology” wherein humanity’s relationship with nature is keenly understood to be one of holism and radical interdependence. He has, for nearly 4 decades, been planting a sustainable forest of over 800 species of palm across 18 acres in Hawaii. This is the Merwin Conservancy, whose mission is . . . to preserve the living legacy of W. S. Merwin, his home and palm forest, for future retreat and study for botanists and writers, for environmental advocacy and community education. (merwinconservancy.org)

Planting a tree may be a little like writing a poem: nurturing new life by gathering and shaping into freshly-coherent form something that we care deeply about . . . And reading a poem, then, like getting to know an individual tree, consciously sharing some of your awareness, your energy, your time, your life, with it.

Final word to the poet, on poetry:
I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there’s still time.

“If” / Prelutsky


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If a baseball breaks a window,
does it cause the window pain?
If it rains upon a lion,
do the droplets water mane?
If you try to wring a lemon,
can you hear the lemon peal?
If you dream that you are fishing,
is your dream of fishing real?

If an ogre is unhappy,
does it utter giant sighs?
If you catch a booby snooping,
are you sure the booby pries?
If you bleach a bag of garbage,
do you turn the garbage pale?
If you tell a horse a story,
could it be a pony tale?

If you wish to paint a whistle,
will you make the whistle blue?
If you’re stuck inside a chimney,
do you suffer from the flue?
If you sketch an escalator,
did you practice drawing stairs?
If you separate two rabbits,
are you really splitting hares?

If you’re filling in a doughnut,
do you make the doughnut whole?
If you’re posing as a muffin,
are you acting out a roll?
If your conversation sparkles,
do you thank your diamond mind?
If you’re followed by a grizzly,
do you have a bear behind?


From Jack Prelutsky A Pizza the Size of the Sun (1996); almost every poem herein is accompanied by brilliantly complementary drawings by illustrator James Stevenson (who is also a very prolific author and poet in his own right).

Jack Prelutsky is American poet-singer-artist extraordinaire who has enchanted generations of children and adults alike with his often humorous and always witty creations in rhythm and rhyme. A Gopher in the Garden and Other Animal Poems was Prelutsky’s first book; since then he’s written over fifty collections of poems, some with his own illustrations, some co-created with well-known illustrators; he has also compiled several children’s anthologies of poems by other poets. There are also audio versions of some of his books, in which he sings and plays guitar to his own musical settings.
In 2006 the Poetry Foundation named Prelutsky its inaugural (first-ever) Children’s Poet Laureate; he has won numerous other awards for his work, notable among them the Library of Congress Book of the Year, American Library Association Notable Children’s Recording, the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year.

The month of April is both National Poetry Month . . . some good selections for children for this occasion here:
and also (I’ve recently learned), National Humor Month (in the US, at least; inaugurated 40 years ago this year by humorist and author Larry Wilde) “as a means to heighten public awareness of the therapeutic value of humor. Laughter and joy – the benchmarks of humor – lead to improved well-being, boosted morale, increased communication skills, and an enriched quality of life.” (This info from humormonth.com/ ).

I will bet you didn’t know that “the study of humor and laughter, and its psychological and physiological effects on the human body” is called gelotology . . . I sure didn’t! Live and learn. That would be a pleasant field to pursue in one’s professional life :) (sciencemadefun.net/blog/)

And a final absolutely irresistible tidbit at:
sometimes-interesting.com/2011/07/16/the-tanganyika-laughter-epidemic/ .

We are such a strange species . . . who probably would be extinct by now if not for our ability to laugh. (Oh dear, is that a “tautology” I smell in that sentence? Ok, well anyway, we certainly wouldn’t be the same species.)


“Spring and Fall” / Hopkins


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Spring and Fall

to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.


English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889), was largely unknown and unappreciated as a poet during his lifetime. His primary identity was as a Jesuit priest, although, having converted to Catholicism in his twenties—yet for his final academic thesis, championing the theology of Duns Scotus (over that of Aquinas)—he was never fully valued by the ecclesiastical community, despite his profound spiritual gifts. (How obtuse the collective can be. But that is its nature, and this is life: an ongoing interplay between individual and group.) Sadly, Hopkins’s strong devotion to religion caused him to feel an obligation to suppress both his creative work and (even) his enjoyment of the beauty he saw in the world—which seems quite strange to us, who understand such capacities to be gifts of the Spirit. Still, this didn’t diminish the almost painfully intense feeling he had for the natural world; it was for him a sacrament, and he knew the smallest molecule to be “charged with the grandeur of God”.

Hopkins’ poetic style is very unique. The combination of unusual rhythm (often specially marked in the text), a brilliantly original vocabulary / inventive metaphor (which necessitates slow, imaginative reading), and a seemingly deliberate density of syntax (sentence structure) all make his poems a challenging experience for the reader—yet how ultimately worthwhile! It is useful to read through a brief article like that in SparkNotes (sparknotes.com/poetry/hopkins/section4.rhtml) if you really can’t find your bearing, or to see if you’re ‘on the right track’ . . . at the same time, we may take to heart these words from Walking with Gerard Manley Hopkins by Robert Waldron (2011): It is not always easy, we should warn readers, to understand Hopkins’ verse; it takes effort, but we believe, along with T. S. Eliot, that poetry communicates even when we do not completely understand it. What we as readers need do is simply to be open to Hopkins’ genius, and gradually, with reading and further reading, the beauty and meaning of his words will be revealed.

My source for “Spring and Fall” was Hopkins: Poems and Prose in the series Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets; selection by Peter Washington, 1995. It’s an interesting and surprisingly replete little book, with fascinating selections of the poet’s sermons and correspondence in addition to many poems.


This post is a tiny gesture to honour the hugely courageous and gentle life of our dear dog, Roscoe, who died in January. Ours was the privilege of sharing ten years with him; his presence with us—a precious gift.