My family and I were refugees from Soviet Russia’s invasion of my parents’ homeland Latvia. My heart goes out to all refugees, particularly those who have had to flee from Ukraine because of the invasion of their homeland. Very little has changed in the last 78 years. For that matter, too little has changed since the Bolshevik Revolution that happened in Russia in 1917. Different dictator, same brutality.
This poem, by Latvian poet, Velta Toma (1912 – 1999) speaks to the soul of a Latvian refugee. To refugees anywhere.
This diaspora happened in the same year Ms. Toma composed her poem.
Aiz manis tumsā zūd ceļi,
deg mājas, un sagrūst tilts.
un visi dzīvie kļūst veļi.
Kā vēju vajāta smilts
es klīstu pa svešām vietām
bez darba, dusas un cilts.
- Velta Toma, (1944)
The translation is my own.
Behind me, the road fades into darkness,
my home burns, the bridge collapses
And all we living become ghosts.
Like a wind-driven grain of sand
I drift through foreign lands
without work, without rest,without kin.
We’ve had the third coldest April in forty-five years in my little corner of the world. The thirteenth coldest since records have been kept. On the fourteenth snow came down thick and fast for maybe a half-hour. It even stuck to the grass. Then it was over as if it had never happened. Usually, the Pacific’s breath keeps our climate mild, even in mid-winter but this isn’t the first time it snowed in May.
We’re all hoping that May will be more like the month described in John Milton’s poem.
Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
Hail bounteous May that dost inspire
Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcom thee, and wish thee long.
Happy May Day!
In 1889 labor activists turned May Day turned into Labor Day in some parts of the world to commemorate the Haymarket riot in Chicago. It was a terrible event but I wish they’d left the joyous celebration of Floralia, to honor Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers alone, and been content to commemorate workers on the first Monday in September. I guess American influence has its limits.
May first was once considered to be the beginning of summer. A time to dance around the May Pole and for children to surprise friends by bringing them flower baskets, leaving them at the door or hanging them on the doorknob, knocking or ringing the bell, and running away. What a lovely surprise for the recipient.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, The flying cloud, the frosty light; The year is dying in the night; Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.
These are only the first two verses of an eight verse poem. I quote only the first two verses because the poem is an elegy, a lament for someone who has passed away. But these two verses seem appropriate for the passing of the old year and the ringing in of the new one.
I wouldn’t want to listen to bells all the time, but I enjoyed hearing the carillons that sung out the hour from the chapel at my alma mater. One of the churches in my town also had a carillon that played from time to time. I enjoyed that, too, but if I’d lived in the neighborhood and had to listen to them all the time, I might not have liked them as much. The carillons at my university still play, but the ones at the church have long since been stilled. I miss them when I go to the library in that neighborhood.
Last night the accursed fan was turned off ten minutes after the beginning of “quiet hours” at ten p.m. The fan went back on promptly at eight this morning and has been on ever since. Unless management intervenes, I expect it to be on for the next ten hours. I need to call them anyway, when I do I’ll remind them of what I mentioned in an email to them a couple of weeks ago–that a fan left on for so many hours can cause a fire.
If I can concentrate I’ll do another blog post later on.
Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.
Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.
“The Giver of Stars” is also the title of a book by British author, Jojo Moyes. It’s in those pages that I found the first verse of this lovely poem.
Wiki describes Ms. Moyes as a romance writer. Since I’ve read only half of The Giver of Stars, and a summery of her first book, Me Before You, I can’t say for sure that I would agree with that description. Based on what I’ve read of “Stars” I can say that her books are most likely not what Americans would call romance novels even though she has twice won the Romance Novel of the Year award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The Giver of Stars seems more like women’s fiction, the story of friendship between five women.
The novel is based on the true stories of women who were traveling horseback librarians who, during the Depression, carried books to people who had no other access to reading materials.
The novel is set in rural Kentucky’s coal country. The main character is Alice Wright, a young English woman who marries a handsome American not just because she’s fallen in love with him, but in order to escape an unhappy home life. Her marriage proves to be a disappointment–a seemingly indifferent husband and an overbearing father-in-law with whom the young couple lives. Seeking escape from her suffocating new home, Alice volunteers to be one of four horseback librarians.
The Giver of Stars is an interesting book for its descriptions of life during the Thirties in rural Kentucky, the lives of the librarians, and the land they live in. Some of the details don’t seem all that believable to me. I’ve caught more than one anachronism. But, after all, this is fiction, not a textbook. The story is good enough for me to overlook minor mistakes. To me this seems like a gentle book. Yes, brutal things happen, but so far they are described innocuously.
Besides the inherent interest of the story, I’m also reading The Giver of Stars to learn why Ms. Moyes’ books have been translated into forty-six different languages and have sold eight million copies. I’m hoping to learn something from her that I can apply to my own writing.
Thomas Hood, English Poet and Humorist 1799 – 1845
Today is very Novemberish, as describe in Thomas Hood’s poem. It’s wet, drab, and foggy. My aparment building is on a knoll from which I can usually see trees, houses, commercial buildings, hills, and mountains. Today I can’t even see across the small valley.
No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon —
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! —
For me this verse is no more than a bit of hyperbole. I’m lucky enough to live in a state where even in mid-winter it’s never really bleak. The sun makes an appearance, even if a brief one, almost every day. My state’s nickname is the Evergreen State for good reason. Not only do we have conifers, we also have madronas which never lose their leaves. The fog is never so thick that we can’t see anything. But even if things are never as bleak as Hood describes them, it can feel that way when it’s been raining without a break for days on end.
However, for Hood living in London during the Industrial Revolution his poem was most likely an accurate description of how things were. Coal was the chief source of energy. Contemporary writer Hugh Mill writes about “the lurid gloom of the atmosphere that overhangs it” (the city) and its “innumerable chimneys.” The smog used to be so bad that it entered buildings, homes, theaters, concert halls, among others. Add November’s gloomy weather and it must have been more gloomy than we can imagine. Is it any wonder that Hood died so young?
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Even though it’s early these last couple of nights, I’ve felt a tang of autumn in the air. But it seems that everything’s wrong side around these days.
No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one autumnal face.
Young beauties force our love, and that's a rape,
This doth but counsel, yet you cannot scape.
If 'twere a shame to love, here 'twere no shame;
Affection here takes reverence's name.
Were her first years the golden age? That's true,
But now she's gold oft tried and ever new.
That was her torrid and inflaming time,
This is her tolerable tropic clime.
Fair eyes, who asks more heat than comes from hence,
He in a fever wishes pestilence.
Call not these wrinkles, graves; if graves they were,
They were Love's graves, for else he is no where.
Yet lies not Love dead here, but here doth sit
Vow'd to this trench, like an anachorit;
And here till hers, which must be his death, come,
He doth not dig a grave, but build a tomb.
Here dwells he; though he sojourn ev'rywhere
In progress, yet his standing house is here:
Here where still evening is, not noon nor night,
Where no voluptuousness, yet all delight.
In all her words, unto all hearers fit,
You may at revels, you at council, sit.
This is Love's timber, youth his underwood;
There he, as wine in June, enrages blood,
Which then comes seasonabliest when our taste
And appetite to other things is past.
Xerxes' strange Lydian love, the platan tree,
Was lov'd for age, none being so large as she,
Or else because, being young, nature did bless
Her youth with age's glory, barrenness.
If we love things long sought, age is a thing
Which we are fifty years in compassing;
If transitory things, which soon decay,
Age must be loveliest at the latest day.
But name not winter faces, whose skin's slack,
Lank as an unthrift's purse, but a soul's sack;
Whose eyes seek light within, for all here's shade;
Whose mouths are holes, rather worn out than made;
Whose every tooth to a several place is gone,
To vex their souls at resurrection:
Name not these living death's-heads unto me,
For these, not ancient, but antique be.
I hate extremes, yet I had rather stay
With tombs than cradles, to wear out a day.
Since such love's natural lation is, may still
My love descend, and journey down the hill,
Not panting after growing beauties. So,
I shall ebb on with them who homeward go.
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work, The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck, The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands, The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown, The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
Walt Whitman was born on Long Island in 1819 and died in New Jersey in 1892. He is considered the father of free verse and is one of America’s most influential poets.
He self-published “Leaves of Grass,” which was considered to be obscene because of its sensuality.
During the Civil War Whitman went to Washington and worked in a hospital caring for wounded soldiers.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, American lecturer, poet, essayist, Transcendentalist.
Transcendentalism: an idealistic philosophical and social movement which developed in New England around 1836 in reaction to rationalism. Influenced by romanticism, Platonism, and Kantian philosophy, it taught that divinity pervades all nature and humanity, and its members held progressive views on feminism and communal living. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were central figures.