Ring Out Wild Bells

Verses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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.

Collins Memorial Library, University of Puget Sound, in the spring. The carillon would remind me that it was time to leave the library and go to my next class.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Poem: Amy Lowell

American poet. 1874 – 1925

The Giver of Stars

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.

“No-vember” Poem

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.

A foggy view from my balcony.
November

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! —
November!

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?

My First Published Piece

Haiku

Tibby and the moon

During my senior year in high school, I took a creative writing class, during which I fell in love with haiku. The teacher taught us the Anglicized rules for the Japanese poetry form–three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. They must be about nature and have a reference to a season. Perhaps in those days no one knew, or cared, that in Japanese syllabification is not the same as in English.

I adored the poems of Basho, Buson, and especially gentle Issa.

Now, if you look up haiku on the internet, you’re likely to see the poems in English and also in Japanese both in Latin script and in Japanese script. Modern haiku, written in English does not necessarily follow the strict rules I was taught. It seems to be pretty much free-form. Nor is the subject matter as restricted.

Anyway, I wrote my little poem as I was taught and submitted it to our local newspaper, which used to run a poetry column in the Sunday edition. What a surprise when they accepted it! My first attempt at getting published. They also sent me a check for three dollars. Much better pay than many periodicals offer these days. I should have framed that check, but I didn’t.

I recently found the newspaper clipping in a box of old photos, a bit brittle, yellowed, but still legible. I still have a little volume of haiku from my school days. I love this subtle poetry form as much as ever.

How very cold the night
frost bitten, the moon sends earth
spears of crystal light.

When the Tether Snaps

This poem was inspired by Mary Oliver.

Writing tethers me to the world.
To myself.
 What happens when the tether
snaps?
When words won’t come.
When loved ones fail us.
When friends betray us.
The tug of the abyss
is too strong?
 Sylvia Plath put her head in an oven.
Hemingway put a gun to his head.
Langston Hughes swallowed lye.
Virginia Woolf walked into a river
with rocks in her pockets.
 What will I do if the tether
snaps?
Whatever I do if the tether
snaps
and I fall
to lie and rot
like a tree in the woods.
I hope green things lean over me
and caress me.
Grow on me and feed on me,
like any nurse log.