April is Poetry Month – Day 10

Byron’s Pool … where Lord Byron, Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf and Ludwig Wittgenstein went swimming (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)


When we were studying World War I earlier this year, we spent some time reading poems by the various “War Poets”.  One of these poets was Rupert Brooke, who wrote several poems about the war.  He died at Gallipoli in 1915 of blood poisoning.  This poem is the fifth in a series of five sonnets that Brooke wrote in 1914.

V. The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust conceal’d;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air.
Wash’d by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

–Rupert Brooke

Wednesdays with Words – April 9, 2014

I’m slowly continuing to savor Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.  Since it is a library book and I can’t write in it, there are numerous post-it notes sticking out of the pages, marking the multiple passages I want to copy and remember.  This is a book that I may eventually have to buy for myself.

I started the chapter of Narratives this week.  Here are a few good thoughts:

“And then, my notes assembled and indexed more or less, I retired to my office to try to begin to make sense of what I had observed.  I imagine that this moment is much the same for most non-fiction writers.  We sit at desks in our offices, apart from the world, gazing at those notebooks stacked on our tables, hoping there are stories in them but once again unsure.”

“What, after all, is a story? It is not a subject.  A good story many include a great deal of information on any number of topics or issues.  It may blossom with implications.  It may be a way of seeing the world in a grain of sand.  But that grain of sand can’t be just any grain of sand.  A story lives in its particulars, in the individuality of person, place, and time.”

“The most important conflict often happens within a character, or within the narrator.  The story begins with an inscrutable character and ends with a person the author and reader understand better than before, a series of events that yields, however quietly, a dramatic truth.  One might call this kind of story a narrative of revelation.”

“Revelation, someone’s learning something, is what transforms event into story.  Without revelation, a story of high excitement leaves us asking, ‘Is that all?’ Discovering the deeper drama of revelation is a challenge for a nonfiction writer, especially the writer who has happened onto a cliff-hanger story.  And it is an opportunity, also a potential solace, for the writer who has in hand a story that lacks obvious drama but that may contain other important qualities.

For a story to have a chance to live, it is essential only that there be something important at stake, a problem that confronts the characters or confronts the reader in trying to understand them.  The unfolding of the problem and its resolution are the real payoff.  A car chase is not required.”



April is Poetry Month – Day 9

On Sunday, I mentioned my enjoyment of John Donne’s religious poetry.  As a friend mentioned elsewhere, she also likes his love poetry, written earlier in his life.  This is one of my favorites.  Donne’s imagery of two separated lovers as two ends of a compass, where one travels away but always comes back to the fixed point in the center at the end is one of the most beautiful images of love I’ve read.


A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

by John Donne

AS virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“Now his breath goes,” and some say, “No.”

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears ;
Men reckon what it did, and meant ;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

April is Poetry Month – Day 8

The Owl and the Pussycat


The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’



Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.



‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

April is Poetry Month – Day 7



We read selections from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  All of my children much preferred learning The Tyger to learning The Lamb.


THE TYGER (from Songs Of Experience)

By William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

April is Poetry Month – First Sunday edition

As I mentioned in my introductory poetry post on the 1st, John Donne was the first poet I really noticed.  He started out writing secular poetry but when he became a clergyman in the Church of England, at the King of England’s suggestion, he began to write religious poetry.  His 14th Holy Sonnet is one of his best known poems:

Holy Sonnet 14

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

–John Donne (1572-1631)



April is Poetry Month – Day 5

My cat looked just like this!


When my children were young, we were given a book of T.S. Eliot’s poems.  Having dipped into Four Quartets and Prufrock and The Waste Land in the past, I assumed that the book was for me and not for the children.  Then I discovered his cat poems.  At dinner one night, I read the first few cat poems to the children and they were delighted.  Soon, it became a habit to read certain ones when we were in the mood.  The Rum Tum Tugger was such a favorite that my middle child demanded to memorize it for school.  I’m posting it today, for poetry month, in honor of my 18yo, who found this poem irresistible when he was 10yo and who still remembers it fondly. I”m also posting it in honor of my cat from when I was a teen and young woman who was the epitome of the Rum Tum Tugger.


The Rum Tum Tugger

The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:
If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
If you put him in a flat then he’d rather have a house.
If you set him on a mouse then he only wants a rat,
If you set him on a rat then he’d rather chase a mouse.
Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
And there isn’t any call for me to shout it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

The Rum Tum Tugger is a terrible bore:
When you let him in, then he wants to be out;
He’s always on the wrong side of every door,
And as soon as he’s at home, then he’d like to get about.
He likes to lie in the bureau drawer,
But he makes such a fuss if he can’t get out.

Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
And there isn’t any use for you to doubt it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

The Rum Tum Tugger is a curious beast:
His disobliging ways are a matter of habit.
If you offer him fish then he always wants a feast;
When there isn’t any fish then he won’t eat rabbit.
If you offer him cream then he sniffs and sneers,
For he only likes what he finds for himself;

So you’ll catch him in it right up to the ears,
If you put it away on the larder shelf.
The Rum Tum Tugger is artful and knowing,
The Rum Tum Tugger doesn’t care for a cuddle;
But he’ll leap on your lap in the middle of your sewing,
For there’s nothing he enjoys like a horrible muddle.
Yes the Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat–
And there isn’t any need for me to spout it:
For he will do
As he do do
And there’s no doing anything about it!

T. S. Elliot



April is Poetry Month – Day 4

Daddy Fell into the Pond.


Everyone grumbled. The sky was grey.

We had nothing to do and nothing to say.

We were nearing the end of a dismal day,

And there seemed to be nothing beyond,


Daddy fell into the pond!


And everyone’s face grew merry and bright,

And Timothy danced for sheer delight.

“Give me the camera, quick, oh quick!

He’s crawling out of the duckweed.”



Then the gardener suddenly slapped his knee,

And doubled up, shaking silently,

And the ducks all quacked as if they were daft

And is sounded as if the old drake laughed.


O, there wasn’t a thing that didn’t respond


Daddy fell into the pond!

Alfred Noyes

April is Poetry Month – Day 3

After we had snow here in Virginia last week, I didn’t think to see these little beauties so soon.  However, as soon as it warmed up last weekend, they popped up in our yard:

Daffodils April 3 2014

To go with these lovely flowers is the classic poem by William Wordsworth:


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Wednesdays with Words – April 2, 2014

I’ve just started a book on writing entitled Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.  I could tell in the first few pages that the writers were kindred spirits.  Here are just a few of the quotes from the first chapter.  Unfortunately it is a library book so I can’t underline all of the wonderful thoughts in it.  I’ll just have to share some with you all instead.

“Beginnings are an exercise in limits.  You can’t make the reader love you in the first sentence or paragraph, but you can lose the reader right away. You don’t expect the doctor to cure you at once, but the doctor can surely alienate you at once, with brusqueness or bravado or indifference or confusion.  There is a lot to be said for the quiet beginning.”

“Expansiveness is not denied to anyone, but it is always prudent to remember that one is not Tolstoy or Dickens and to remember that modesty can resonate, too.”

“Clarity isn’t an exciting virtue, but it is a virtue always, and especially at the beginning of a piece of prose.”

‘With good writing the reader enjoys a doubleness of experience, succumbing to the story or the ideas while also enjoying the writer’s artfulness. Indeed, one way to know that writing deserves to be called art is the coexistence of these two pleasures in the reader’s mind.”

“Journalists are instructed…to make sure they tell the most important facts of the story first. This translates poorly to longer forms of writing.  The heart of the story is usually a place to arrive at, not a place to begin.  Of course the reader needs a reason to continue, but the best reason is simply confidence that the writer is going someplace interesting.”

The heart of the story is usually a place to arrive at, not a place to begin.  I love this thought!

This is going to be a good book.  I can feel it in my bones.