Admit it; You Hate Change, too. A reflection on Sara Teasdale’s “September Midnight”

18 09 2013

300px-Harvest_moon

September Midnight

Lyric night of the lingering Indian Summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
Ceaseless, insistent.

The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
Tired with summer.

Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
Snow-hushed and heavy.

Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
Lest they forget them.

Sara Teasdale

 

Summer is all but officially over for the year.  College is in full swing, schools are back in session, football is back on television, and I have made the switch of wardrobe.  Away go the sleeveless and the shorts, and in with the jeans and the sweaters.

On this night of the big, brilliant harvest moon, I am thinking about Sara Teasdale’s poem.

There are people who like good-byes and people who avoid them.  Maybe because I was a military child and so profoundly used to good-byes and their significance, I am the type who needs those moments to bid farewell, not necessarily to people, but definitely to places and times.

I like to take that extra moment to go into an empty house before I move, going from room to room and breathing it into my memory before leaving.

Why not take a picture, you ask?  Good question.  I don’t know the answer.  I have pictures of my old bedrooms and houses, but I don’t look at them.

I vividly remember sitting crossed- legged  in my small bedroom closet as a seventh grader the day we left our house in Maryland to move to New York.  I just wanted to remember it.

Why did I care about the closet?  I didn’t sit in there before.  I had no special attachment to it; nonetheless, there I sat for while trying to sear into my memory the slats of the folding door.

Maybe it is because leaving a place or a time is much like leaving yourself behind.

Life is constantly changing, and for a young person, that’s very unnerving.  Heck, it is unnerving to think of as an adult.

Change is unavoidable, but it is even more difficult when you have very limited control over your life.  That part of childhood is definitely not one that I would ever want to return to.

“September Midnight” is about the fast approaching change of seasons.  In her poem, summer is over; there are no more birds chirping, the growing season is over, and all that remains are the insects’ passionless chirps.

There is no scent to the fields and the moon is worn, broken, and tired.

So, really, what is she going to miss exactly?

These aren’t exactly beautiful images that she creates with diction such as weeds, worn, broken, tired, passionless, scentless, and shadowy.

She is afraid of the change more than the actual loss of the season, which reminds me of that little girl who didn’t want to leave that bedroom closet many years ago and move.  It wasn’t a great place to be, but it was better than the change.

So we pause; we try to drink in the surroundings to taste them again when we want to.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, either.  That way, when the world gets too heavy, we can bring to our mind’s eye the images of what we know so well and find some comfort, even if that is just fallow fields and insect chirps.

Helen_Allingham_-_Harvest_Moon

It only becomes a problem when you spend all of your time pining away for the past and thereby missing out on the new phase of life.

When I left my teaching job, I spent many moments looking at my empty classroom.  Being a teacher was the way I defined myself, and leaving that behind to start another phase in life was a bigger challenge than leaving any house.  When my girls are in the middle of big fits, it is nice to be able to bring to mind the peaceful classroom I once had and imagine what it would be like to return one day. . . but not too soon.

We might want to make the symbolic leap that she is reflecting not on a literal change of seasons, but on a figurative change in the seasons of life.  Perhaps this is commentary on the hesitation we feel when entering the autumn of our lives.

Because we are afraid of death, we focus on the dark, heavy, and cold parts of growing older, but with that attitude, we will easily miss out on all the beauty that is found in the winter, both literally and figuratively.

Happy autumn, and I hope the change of seasons finds you well.

Advertisements




Heartbreak and the Holidays: “The Feel of Not to Feel It” and Keats

28 11 2012

In Drear-Nighted December

John Keats

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne’er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne’er remember
Apollo’s summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would ’twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

Ah, December— it’s the end of the year, (and if you want to believe the Mayans— maybe the end of the world? Gasp!) so naturally it invites a certain melancholic reflection, a yearning for days gone by. Honestly, I think it’s a really good thing that December is full of celebratory anticipation and glistening lights, because at least in my part of the world, it might get overwhelmingly gloomy at times.

This would be especially true in those years when the first snows don’t fall until late December. The first snows are pretty magical for many of us, especially on the heels of an extraordinarily mild winter last year. Even those of us who grow snow-weary by January, February, or March, tend to enjoy the first snows that cover everything in crisp shimmering white, hiding all the muddy leaves and abandoned toys in the back yard.

But, especially without the snow, things are often drear-nighted, so I can feel what Keats is saying here. Things do get pretty gray, cold, and bare. What a perfect metaphor for how you feel when you are heartbroken. Gray, cold, and bare.

Frozen.

Dark.

And really, is there a worse month to be heartbroken than December? First, there is the natural world that seems to be dead all around you, and then there are the terribly long nights. On top of all that, there is the pressure to have a most joyous and wonderful season of togetherness with the ones you love. Everyone talks about it, and there are images of love everywhere.

So, what if your love isn’t there anymore?

It’s a tough time for many people, especially those who know “the feel of not to feel it.”

This poem looks at how poignant romantic heartbreak is. It is one of my favorite poems reflecting on heartbreak and that hopeless anguish that feels so suffocating. It captures that despair, doesn’t apologize, and doesn’t offer hope. Keats knows that when you are heartbroken, you don’t want to hear people trying to cheer you up.

Heartbreak sucks, and you can feel as lousy as you want without feeling guilty about it. Go ahead and wallow in it for a while. It’s okay.

Keats says it is okay, and he is like the best poet who ever lived.

Frozen light

Frozen light (Photo credit: Nanaki)

In the first stanza, he looks at a frozen sleety tree with bare branches and thinks about how the tree is just fine. It is not at all upset in its current state even though it once had beautiful leaves, and the reason this is possible is that the tree has no memory of that better time. None the wiser, the tree is content, and it will bloom again in the spring without fear of losing the leaves, and the cycle continues.

;

Next, in the second stanza, the speaker’s attention turns to a frozen brook. In

Frozen Brook

Frozen Brook (Photo credit: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton)

a similar way, he considers how lucky the brook is that it has no memory of the happy time when it once flowed freely. Even encased in an icy prison, the brook is perfectly happy because of the “sweet forgetting.” The brook has no memory of Apollo in his hot “summer look”, so it is happy even in a less comfortable situation.

In the final stanza, the speaker laments that people don’t have this ability to forget, too. Instead, we all are doomed to writhe in the pain of remembering happy times before our heartbreak, and there is nothing that can be done to ease the pain.

Keats believes “The feel of not to feel it” is so excruciating that is was never “said in rhyme”. That might seem like a contradiction at first. I mean, there are loads of poems about heartbreak, right? In fact, isn’t this a poem about it??

Well, yes,

But what he is saying is that the feeling cannot be truly expressed in words; it can’t be said in rhyme. It can’t be communicated at all, only felt.

But Keats! Isn’t It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

Nope.

Keats does not agree at all. It is painful and he wishes he could just erase it from his memory. I agree that this is how it feels when heartbreak is fresh, but I don’t agree in the long run. I’m not going to delete anyone from my memory.

I think Keats would have liked “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” don’t you? What are your thoughts? Would you push delete on a lost love if you could? Would you be happier if you couldn’t remember?





How Do You Help Fight the Blueblack Cold? “Those Winter Sundays” and Gratitude

9 11 2012

Those Winter Sundays

By Robert Hayden

 

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

 

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

 

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

 

 

In November, many of us reflect a little more on what we have and what we are grateful for.  One of my favorite poems about gratitude, or probably more accurately, regret over ingratitude, is “Those Winter Sundays”.

 

The speaker, an adult, reflects back with regret on the way he and the rest of his family treated their father while he was growing up.  His father was a hard-working man.  Simply by using the word “too” in the first line, we know that for this father, every day was a work day, even including the “day of rest”. 

 

His hands ached from his labors, but still, he got up before the rest of the family to warm the house.  He fought that blueblack cold alone till it splintered and warmed.  Only when the house warmed did he wake his family.

 

Martel and van Over have friends for dinner an...

Spintering the cold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one thanked him.

 

In fact, they were all pretty indifferent to him.

 This man gave and gave, and they took and took.

 

I think it is possible that the speaker is being a little bit too hard on himself here.  Children are self-centered by nature, and I think if we are being honest, most of us are pretty horrified when we think about what brats we were to our parents at least at some point in our youth. 

 

I, myself, was pretty bratty till my late twenties.  My mother and I can laugh about it now. 

 

When he says, “what did I know, what did I know/ of love’s austere and lonely offices”, I believe that he really didn’t know.  So, how can he blame himself for something that he didn’t understand at the time?

 

What is most important here is that he realizes it now. 

 

He can’t go back and change things that are long past, but he can do something about it.  He can recognize those sacrifices, both small and large, that people are making for him now.  Plus, maybe now he’ll be more ready and able to make similar offerings of “love’s austere and lonely offices”  for his family, and do so without feeling the need to be thanked. 

 

Do you have someone who splinters the cold for you? I hope you do.

 

Or maybe a better question for reflection is how do you splinter the cold for those you love?

Instead of feeling like a jerk for all the crappy things you did as a child after reading this poem, try to think of all the ways you can help someone else fight off that blueblack cold. 

I don’t know anyone who isn’t cold.   





Meaningful Work Beats Perfect Work at the End of the Day: A look at “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost

11 10 2012

After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.  
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass  
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.  
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

 

How are you doing?   Really, how are you doing?

Do you stop and think about it often?  Do you consciously evaluate yourself?  When you do (if you do) do you tend to see what you have done well, or are you pretty critical and think mostly about what you did wrong or how you can improve?

Do you ever question whether the work you are doing is what you really want to do with your life? 

 I really like this poem for its ability to refocus my attention to what I am doing right, rather than getting mired down in what that jerk of an internal critic likes to spew out at me.  (Most of us have that nagging voice, right?  The one who tells us that we aren’t good enough?)

This poem shines light on the importance not of being perfect, but of living a life full of meaning.  It doesn’t matter what the work is, what matters is that you find it meaningful and you want to do it.

There are layers of meaning in this poem, like in most great poems, so let’s start with a look at the literal level. 

We have a speaker who is reflecting and evaluating himself after the season’s apple harvest. 

The harvest wasn’t perfect; there might have been some apples he missed, but he is done and overwhelmingly tired from his hard labor.  In fact, he has been tired since the early morning when he looked through a sheet of ice he scooped out of a water trough.  He holds the ice up and things look distorted through it; he lets the ice fall to the ground. 

He has been working so hard that he knows he will even dream of work. (Don’t you just hate those work dreams!  It’s not fair, right?!)

  He knows trippy distorted apples will appear and disappear in his dreams; he will even be able to feel the pressure and ache of the ladder on his feet, feel the sway of the tree limbs as he reaches out to pick his apples, and he will hear the rumbling sound of apples being unloaded into the cellar. 

The tense changes to the present when he describes his dream, and lots of critics like to focus on that.  Dream and reality intermesh in this poem, and it becomes unclear, but  I think it is because he knows exactly what his dreams will be, since he has had many similar dreams after a hard day’s (or season’s) work. 

Next come the most important lines of the poem, at least in terms of developing tone:

“For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.”

He is very tired, but it is what he wanted

Did he have an unreasonable harvest goal that left him exhausted?  Or is he saying that he is exhausted from his hard work that yielded a great harvest? 

Either way, what is most important is that it was what HE wanted. 

He loved his work—he cherished those ten thousand thousand apples.  He was careful with each and didn’t let them fall to get bruised and sent off for cider. 

So, yes, he is tired, but it is a good tired.  The harvest was a wonderfully satisfying experience. 

But still, he says his sleep will be troubled.  What is he troubled by?   Is it because he doesn’t know what kind of sleep he is preparing to enter?  He wonders if it is going to be like hibernation or human sleep. 

In this poem, apple-picking serves as a metaphor for anyone’s life work, anyone’s life purpose. 

Instead of apple-picking, what are you doing?  Is it what you desire?  If so, no matter how hard you work, it will be worth it, even if you are not perfect at your work.

You may get tired, but it will be a good tired if you are doing what you want to do.  If it is what someone else desires, all the work will be drudgery, misery.

We can also read this poem as a metaphor for life itself. 

If I was teaching this poem in a class, I would discuss the symbolism of the seasons before reading this.  It is nearly winter in this poem, and that usually means death is approaching. 

Not only is it the end of autumn, it is the end of this man’s labor for the season, and the end of a day.  Lots of “ends” here, right?  Add to that all of the talk to sleep (six times) and dreaming, and being tired, drowsing. . .and LONG sleep, and it becomes highly probable that the speaker is dying. 

He is evaluating his life’s work, and feels confident that he did the best he could with it, even though he realizes that it wasn’t a perfect life. Maybe he didn’t get to fill all the barrels he wanted to fill. Even so, he is all set; he is done with whatever he wanted to do in this world. He has had “too much of apple-picking” and is ready to go.  The only trouble that remains is the uncertainty about what death will be like.

Ah, and that is a little “fruit of knowledge” that we all try to pick, isn’t it?

What a pretty little poem. 

Apple: the fruit of knowledge. What does he still want to know?





Thinking about “Ozymandias” Might Help You Survive this Political Season

6 09 2012

Ozymandias

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

In any acrimonious political season, I think about “Ozymandias”. And really, has there ever been a political season that wasn’t acrimonious? Watching the conventions is painful for me. All I see are puffed up politicians bloviating “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

But when I look around, I don’t see all that much worthy of all the bragging. And I don’t fully understand how the other guy will help any, either.

I realize that the conventions are meant to be pep-rallies, but wouldn’t it be great if each candidate just gave us a detailed plan of what he/she wants to do for our country along with an explanation about why he/she wants to do them? That would be so fantastically perfect. They shouldn’t even be allowed to mention the other guy. Just tell me about you, candidate, not what sucks about him.

A little background: Ozymandias is the Greek name for Ramses II, who was pharaoh of Egypt in the 13th century B.C. He was kind of a jerk. The British Museum was set to acquire some ruins of a statue of Ozymandias in 1816, which inspired Shelley and his buddy, Horace Smith, to engage in a little friendly poetry competition. Neither poet would have actually seen the statue before he wrote the poem; their ink dried before it arrived.

(Interesting side note: even back then, and even in artistic pursuits, competition yielded amazing results. Hmmm. That’s something to think about.)

In case you are wondering, Smith’s Ozymandias poem can be found Online easily enough, and it isn’t too shabby, but Shelley’s was the clear winner, at least in most people’s opinions.

Now, on to the poem:

The speaker starts by saying he once met a traveler who told him about a mammoth ruin of a statue in the desert. He goes on to describe two giant legs sticking up from the sand that no longer connect to a body, and next to these trunkless legs is the shattered, decapitated head (visage) half sunk in the sand. Great image, right?

Even in its poor condition, the traveler is able to clearly surmise the type of leader Ozymandias was by the way the sculptor presented his subject. Through his “frown”, “wrinkled lip”, and “sneer”, it is clear this leader was not a very compassionate leader, to put it mildly. Plus, it’s clear that Ozy was overly impressed with himself in general.

In fact, one really does have to be pretty impressed with himself to commission a sculptor to craft an enormous statue of himself, right?

(It’s almost akin to all the people who take endless pictures of themselves to post on Facebook.)

Then we get to some tricky lines that scholars love to debate:

“Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:”

The debate is over whose hand and heart is being talked about here? Or could it be more than one person?

The way I read this is that the hand belongs to the artist. The artist’s hand “mocked” the passions of the leader.

But wait! The confusion doesn’t stop here, folks. There is a double meaning to the word “mocked”. Today,” to mock” usually means “to deride” or “to belittle,” but the more antiquated meaning is simply “to copy”. Maybe you have heard of something refered to as a “mock-up” of something else?

So then the question becomes, did the artist’s hands try to make fun of him, point out his flaws, and make a political commentary? Or was he just doing his best to make an accurate mock-up of the leader?

That is hard to say, and maybe the ambiguity in the word choice was intentional. I am not an expert on the history of the word or Shelley’s time, but from what I have read, the modern meaning of the word was becoming more popular at the time. Even so, this doesn’t really clear up what he meant for sure.

Most likely, the sculptor was not attempting to make a political point. That kind of outspoken “mockery” wouldn’t have been tolerated and would have led to the artist’s death.

However, can you really completely disconnect an artist’s beliefs from his work? Is there such a thing as true objectivity in any art?

Certainly, even if he was trying to sculpt Ozymandias as accurately as possible, isn’t it likely that by studying the choices the artist made in his work, we see just as much of the artist as we can of the subject?

The second part of the sentence is really confusing. “The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:”

Whose heart? And what did it feed? Is it feeding something or is it being fed upon? Is it the artist’s heart that fed upon creating the work? Is it Ozymandias’ heart that fed on his passions? (AND, no, it is not that the kindly ruler fed his people food.)

I lean toward believing that it is Ozymandias’ heart whose ambitions and hubris grows and grows. But, I could be talked into another way of looking at it. I’m very hesitant in my interpretation there.

After those few sketchy lines, comes the part of the poem that packs a great ironic punch.

Inscribed on the base of the statue is:

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

(Life rule #787,626: if you are ever king, don’t ever get tempted to refer to yourself as the “King of Kings” unless you are God incarnate. If you do, you will most likely end up in some ironic poem about how everything is impermanent.)

The next line is perfect:

“Nothing beside remains.”

So, yes, the joke is on you, Ozy. This great and powerful man—for one tiny moment in history—who “mocks” us from well beyond the grave to look upon his fabulous kingdom and despair that we are not as fabulous as he is,

has nothing of his work that remains except a boastful joke of a quote on a ruined statue.

You know what I love the most about this poem? You know what DOES remain? Not the politician or the kingdom but

Art: the ruins of the sculpture and this perfectly intact poem.

And really, what else besides art ever truly lasts?

(Thankfully, not political seasons)





Becoming More Confident with “homage to my hips” by Lucille Clifton

20 06 2012

homage to my hips

these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
I have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

By Lucille Clifton

Check out this great video of Lucille Clifton giving a little commentary and reading her poem: http://vimeo.com/36987057

Is it just me, or does this poem make you smile, too?  This is one of my power-poems.  It allows me to try on some of Ms. Clifton’s exceptional confidence, at least for a moment or two.

The first time you read it, the first line slaps you in the face, “these hips are big hips.”  Really.  Big hips and yet she still pays homage to them? Maybe you double check the title to make sure this is an homage and not a lament.   We are programmed to think of “big” as synonymous to “bad” in modern discussion of women’s bodies. –with one exception (technically two exceptions, I guess).

Clifton continues her homage using all sorts of positive modifiers to describe her big hips.    Her hips are way too fabulous to fit into society’s narrow definition of beauty.  They are Mighty.  Magical.  AND, I have no doubt that she definitely did spin men like tops, too–if not from her literal hips, then certainly from her sexy confidence and attitude.  Don’t tell her that she is not wonderful.  No sir.

 Man, don’t you just love it?  Here is a woman happy right here and right now and not in ten pounds, not when she can fit into her old jeans. 

The poem is brief—no more than a hundred words—and ten of them repeat the word “hips.” Its  repetition creates an echo of the word that you can hear when the poem is over.   It sticks with me just like a jelly bun from Holland Farms sticks on my hips.

( Wait.  That simile is not quite in the spirit of this poem.)

What a fantastically simple and powerful poem!  Its message is simple—but so very hard to own, if we are being completely honest with ourselves. That’s the paradox; It’s a simple poem for something that is so out of reach for so many people. 

 I mean, seriously, how many of you can honestly say that you share this brand of confidence?  And no, I don’t mean just on some days when you are feeling especially hot; I mean consistently.  Everyday.  Would you feel more insecure if you magically gained thirty pounds overnight?  Or would that not matter to you at all?  Do you know anyone like this?  I know there are at least a few out there.  If you are one of them, please, help a sister out and share your wisdom.    

Several years ago, I knew a gal of a certain fleshy amplitude.  I, myself, have never been skinny, but she was quite a bit fleshier.  That said, she was far more comfortable in her body than I was in mine at that point. I mean, she wore spaghetti strap tank tops, for heaven’s sake.  At that time, I would have rather passed out from heat exhaustion and been carried off to the ER than have someone see my flabby arms. 

“But it is hot out,” she would say, looking at me sideways, when I told her I didn’t wear them.

 It has been approximately three centuries since I have seen her, but I often think about her confidence.  Oh, And, in case you are wondering, much like Lucille, she also made men spin like tops. It’s all about the confidence. How come we aren’t all like Clifton (or Adele or this old friend of mine) and say—this is me, and I’m wonderful now. As is.  Not to mention, I will be equally wonderful if my body is smaller or if my body is larger.

This is a personal struggle for me and for many women. Over the years, I’ve been just about every size in the world.  Well, I’ve never been super skinny. I’m just not programmed that way.  Thankfully, I am much more at ease with this than I was many years ago, just like I am also finally at peace with the realization I will never in my life be tan.  This is pretty late in coming, though.  This Irish skinned gal spent many sunburned summers determined to beat my half-Cherokee cousins in tanning contests.  Baby steps for me, people.  I can be a slow learner, for sure.

I’ve thought about it, and this is going to be my new approach.  I am going to think of getting to a healthy weight the same way I think about improving my mind.  I don’t think less of myself because I haven’t yet read Ulysses by James Joyce cover to cover; however, I would really like to accomplish that someday. When I finally do finish it, it will be cool, but it won’t make me somehow better than I am now.    

So, rage on Clifton and your mighty magical big hips—I will try to think of this poem especially when negative self-talk bubbles up when I’m trying on bathing suits for summer. 

It’s safe to say I won’t be crafting an homage to my muffin top any time soon, but I am much closer than I was before.

I hope you are too. 

 





Banishing your Balloonman: A look at cummings “In Just–“

4 06 2012

in Just-

by: e.e. cummings (1894-1962)

in Just-

spring             when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

whistles         far         and wee

and eddieandbill come

running from marbles and

piracies and it’s

spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer

old balloonman whistles

far         and           wee

and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s

spring

and

       the

                        goat-footed

balloonman           whistles

far

and

wee

“in just” was originally published in The Dial Volume LXVIII, Number 5 (May 1920). New York: The Dial Publishing Company, Inc.

Go ahead, read this poem out loud.  No one can hear you.  It is the type of poem that begs to be vocalized.  I’ll wait right here till you’re done.

Fun right?  It’s a good one to commit to memory. 

Well, even though it is not “JUST” spring, and instead it is more like “mid to late” spring, I’ve been thinking a lot about this poem lately.  

“In Just–“   seems so playful on one level. I mean, come on,  it’s about spring, kids, and playing outdoors.  We’ve got tons of fun things going on here.  Betty and Isabel jump rope and hop-scotch and dance; Eddie and Bill have marbles and pretend to be pirates.  Good times.   

Everything is brand-spanking new, so exciting, and complete with fresh, unexpected ways of looking at the world like “mud-luscious” and “puddle-wonderful”.   Mud is pretty darn luscious when you think about it, too.

It seems like a real feel-good kind of poem. 

Then the balloonman whistles far and wee, and the kids go running and dancing to him.   At first you may think, “Hey, that’s just another fun childhood thing.  The kids are pumped to go get some balloons from the guy.”

 Well, maybe. 

But first, let’s check out the descriptions of the balloonman: little, lame (meaning walks with difficulty), queer (meaning odd), old, and goat-footed. (If you didn’t find him suspect before, maybe the goat-footed bit got you thinking?) 

Plus, what’s up with him always whistling?  

 

Remind you maybe of this dude, hmmm?  He pretty much fits the bill, right?  Who is he?  Hint: that thing he is holding is a “pan” flute.     

Yup, that’s Pan from Greek mythology.  Pan is a pretty creepy dude/goat.  When he plays his pan flute, he creates panic.  Plus, he is well known for his . . . well . . . lusty ways.  A simple Google image search for Pan yields lots of cringe-worthy images.  Even you Fifty Shades fans may find yourself a bit horrified. 

Okay, so we have these sweet little kids who are loving the beautiful, fresh spring day when they are lured off by the sound of Pan’s flute.  The tone has changed.  Maybe it is not just a feel-good poem, after all. 

What is to happen to them?  Is it sinister?  I mean, do they come back at all?  Or maybe they do come back, but in some changed way?  Could this just represent the unavoidable fall from childhood innocence that is a natural part of growing up? Another manifestation of the good ol’ coming-of-age theme?   

Some people really want this to be a sweet poem, and I feel you.  Really, that would be nice.  So, is it possible that this is just a poor old vendor that the kids describe in this rather unflattering way?  Probably not.  It is really hard to ignore the classic symbolism of the goat feet and whistle. 

This poem makes me think of how sometimes there are people (or things) who take us away from happiness in our lives.  The buzz kills.  The toxic people.  The stuff that clutters up our lives.  

Balloonmen come in various shapes and sizes.  Chances are good that there is one that fits you perfectly:

  • Maybe it is a person who monopolizes your attention and takes you away from what you should be doing. 
  • Maybe it is a teacher or a boss who makes you feel marginalized or incapable. 
  • Maybe it is someone who you think is cool, so you alter your thoughts to match hers—even subconsciously. 
  • Maybe it is drugs or alcohol. 
  • Maybe it is wanderlust—thinking that happiness can be found by changing location.
  • Maybe it is an obsession with stuff, collecting, shopping.

Maybe it is an unscrupulous editor who ripped you off and for a moment made you question yourself?

What all these balloonmen have in common is that their “songs” lure us away from real happiness somehow.  They are false or empty prophets; they are confidence shatterers;  they are never any good for us, but they are so very tempting to listen to. 

Sometimes you don’t recognize the balloonmen in your life for a while, but if you start looking carefully, you will find his feet.  

Oh, and one more thing.  Upon discovery that someone has goat feet, you’ve only one real option.  Don’t even think you have the power to change them to human feet. 

Maybe along with teaching kids to never accept candy from strangers, we should also warn them about the goat-footed among us.