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The Ballad

Colors and Beyond.jpg

The Summer of Horses

Summertime was far too sweet that year

too poignant-berry, forest-trailing sweet.

Unhinging time, they cantered wild horses,

never touching earth beneath their feet.

She rode a silver steed–Euphoria,

and he, a red roan–Cavalier by name.

They let the horses lead them, unaware

her horse was blind and his was going lame.

Through the forest, over bluffs they rambled

and found a cozy inn beside the road.

“We’ll tie the horses here, and eat,” they said,

never sensing what the place might bode.

As they settled in a sunny-windowed corner

affording them a dazzling ocean view,

they were met with smiles, and graceful hands

and silky voice too honeyed to be true.

They waited, waited, waited for their meal.

She gazed out at the ocean breakers’ gleam,

while restlessly he rose and turned a corner–

unknowing things are rarely what they seem.

Finally food was served by graceful hands,

and silky voice–and pleasing, winsome smile.

They ate; their meals were fine, and yet the two

were vaguely apprehensive all the while.

Time began to move; now they perceived

an air of subtle, hidden treachery

disguised in graceful hands and winsome smile,

and silky voice skilled in duplicity.

“We’re never coming here again,” he said.

She agreed.  And when he went to pay

his pockets were empty.  As he’d turned that corner

graceful hands had whisked his cash away.

The eyes behind the winsome smile gloated

as the disenchanted couple raced across the lawn

to where they’d tethered the horses–for alas,

Euphoria and Cavalier were gone.

Margaret Longenecker Been

Note:  There is the ballad I mentioned in the last blog entry.  Balladry is far removed from my usual poetic voice.  If you love poetry but have never visited the Ekphrasis page on this site, you might want to try it. 

“Ekphrasis” is simply poetry that goes with art or art which reflects a poem.  I haven’t added to this page for awhile, but now am inspired to share more of my poems and art in Ekphrasis.

Margaret L. Been — April 24th, 2016

Another note, April 26th:  Please visit one of the loveliest websites I’ve ever discovered.  Just GOOGLE “Alicia’s Roses” and you’ll get there.  You will only wish you’d found it sooner!  MLB

SS Edmund Fitzgerald underway, photo by Winston Brown

Perhaps the oldest form of poetry in most languages, the art of story-telling in rhyme and meter, has staying power like little else in literary history.  Recording historical events, myths, and everyday happenings—comic, tragic, or somewhere in between—the ballad has traditionally been sung and accompanied by (frequently a stringed) musical instrument.  Yet many unforgettable tales in rhyme and meter stand sufficiently alone on paper, begging to be read aloud.

My English literature background is rich with balladry beginning with that bloody saga of Good vs. Evil, Beowulf.  In the 1990s, when we lived in a home with a vaulted wood paneled ceiling we hung the heads of a Javelina pig and a pronghorn antelope—both hunted, bagged, and bequeathed to me by my father.  As I viewed the mounted heads, I experienced a wash of Beowulf Medieval atmosphere; I just had to get out an old textbook and read parts of that gory drama in the ancestral hall.

Whereas some of the characters in the ballad had grown fuzzy or obscure in my head over decades, the mood and setting were indelible.  Mood and atmosphere are created by music, with or without words.

English literature is replete with balladry.  Some beloveds probably known to most aficionados of poetry are Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci and Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman.  Add The Rime of he Ancient Mariner, by Coleridge and haunting works by America’s own Edgar Allan Poe (examples: Annabel Lee and The Raven) and you have a start toward Balladry 101.  The canon is endless.

The tradition of story-telling via ballads set to music was big in the 1960s, with the popularity of folk music and wrung-out war-protests.  This music continued into the 1970s.  But since then, except in isolated parts of the country where (happily) folk music is inherent to the local culture, the ballad seems to have dropped through the floor—as if someone played a foul trick by suddenly opening up a hidden trapdoor on the floor of a stage, and absconding with a lot of life-quality in the process.

Now fakey-flashing lights, screaming, throbbing, gyrating about in indecent attire, and the glorifying of oblivion—all personified by The Coarse and Obnoxious (as well as The Just Plain Weird!) have supplanted the age-old entertainment mode of telling and re-telling the human story, both epic and everyday, in a format that implants one’s heart and mind forever.  As a society, we have lost the power of the ballad—and the loss is tragic beyond definition!

The stage lights went out and the metaphorical trapdoor opened up shortly after the immense popularity of what I believe to be one of the most significant ballads in contemporary times:  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot—a multi-gifted composer and troubadour.  With the obvious exception of fictional last minute commentary on the ship, Lightfoot documented the tragedy with careful selection of factual information.

The ballad triggered an inquisitive spirit in me, and in recent years I’ve read everything I could get my hands on concerning the Fitzgerald (pictured above in all its original glory.)  As far as I know, there is still a question:  Did the ship hit an uncharted shoal which jarred the hatches loose, or had they been improperly secured?  God knows.

Shipwrecks are among history’s most horrific events.  I have a penchant for reading about peril on high water, and oddly enough I don’t even like to be tossed about on a small inland lake in a sailboat.

Yes, I do swim and I love water.  Canoes and rowboats are wonderful!  Motors are okay, too.  But flailing in the wind?  No thank you—only in a book.  I have read about many ship disasters, including the Titanic which was massive in scope and devastation compared to the Fitz.  So why is the Edmund Fitzgerald foremost in my head?

Maybe because it happened in my recent lifetime, and less than three hundred miles from home.  Or even more likely, because Gordon Lightfoot wrote and performed an unforgettable song about the Fitz.  It’s all about The Power of the Ballad.

Margaret L. Been — April 23, 2016

Note:  Over decades of serious application to the art of poetry I have written many lyrical, philosophy-of-life pieces.  Ten years ago I decided to try writing a ballad, and I did exactly that.

The ballad is titled:  The Summer of Horses, and it is kind of a metaphorical-epiphany thing.  I was pleased with the effort, and the ballad won 1st Honorable Mention in the 2006 Wisconsin Writers’ Association Annual Jade Ring Contest.

God willing, and the creeks don’t rise, AND providing the days do not suddenly go berserk and hit 70-80° F., I will post The Summer of Horses on this site before National Poetry Month morphs into the Merry Month of May.

But please don’t hold your breath! :)

Grandpa Longenecker and his racer

The above racing team consists of my paternal grandfather, George Washington Longenecker (1864-1951) and one of his American Standardbreds.  Grandpa George may be considered an obscure poet; but he was far from obscure in Neillsville, Wisconsin where he served for decades as a preacher in the 1st Congregational Church.

Along with “pastoring” (actually Congregational preachers* are called “Reverend” rather than “Pastor”), Grandpa George raised American Standardbreds and competed in sulky races at local fairs.  This activity raised a few legalistic eyebrows in the small Wisconsin community—probably due to the possibility of spectators gambling on the races.  But Grandpa’s recreational passions involved horses and poetry, not money.

Having made poems ever since I can recall and pursued a lifelong study of poetry as fine art, I need to mention that most literary poetry aficionados would consider my grandfather’s verses to be doggerel.  Although Grandpa was raised on classical literature, his course of study was theology—not the fine arts.  Like many Congregational Reverends in his era, he graduated from Ohio’s Oberlin Seminary.

Grandpa George loved the Lord Scripturally, with all his heart and mind.  His poems reflect his love, and that’s good enough for me!  My grandfather also loved music, specifically the great hymns of the Christian faith which he played on his violin.  Much of Grandpa’s poetry contains the cadence and meter of a hymn.

In 1947 Grandpa self-published a book of his work titled SUNSET POEMS—named after my grandparents’ home, “Sunset Point”, on a bluff overlooking Wisconsin’s beautiful Black River.  Here is one of the poems:

Grandpa's Poem

George W. Longenecker

No feature concerning Grandpa George would be complete apart from mention of his beloved life partner, Emma Rosina Ernst Longenecker (1866-1952), my grandmother.  In past blog entries I have celebrated Grandma Rose who was known for her abundant garden produce, homemade bread, and frequent litters of kittens generously shared with people around town.

Here is Grandma Rose when she was a young, Victorian era girl:

Grandma Rose

*A contemporary novel, GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson, centers on three generations of small town Congregational Reverends from the Civil War to Mid-20th Century.  I was riveted to this book and want to read it again, as it reflects my roots.  Potentially classic, GILEAD is a quietly-powerful piece of fiction.  Marilynne Robinson’s storytelling gift is poignantly beautiful.  Two more of her novels, HOME and LILA, form a trilogy with GILEAD.

Margaret L. Been — April 6th, 2016

. . . begins tomorrow, and that is not an April Fool.  If I spend any significant amount of time indoors (a lot depends on the weather and the gardens) I hope to post poems in April, in honor of that high art which is rapidly becoming extinct in our retrograde, dumbed-down American culture.

While a number of my favorite 20th century poets are still under copyright so that I cannot reprint their entire poems, I can go back to my all-time most beloved of all poets and authors of drama—The Old Bard, himself.  His writings are only exceeded by the Holy Bible.  The Bible being God’s Word will always rank number one in ageless truth, but after that comes a human author who speaks universally to the human heart and psyche like none other.  If this author were required reading at every level of every public and private school, there quite possibly would be no need for the “science” of psychology to attempt the unraveling of human nature.

Marry the factor of universality to the most exquisite use of language, and you have William Shakespeare.  I believe that the works of Shakespeare—as well as those of Milton and other past literary giants, plus artists and composers—are living proof of the Creationist World View.  It is pathetically obvious to anyone but the most deluded individual that mankind is not advancing with time!

Meanwhile, to jump-start National Poetry Month, here is Sonnet #64:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-ras’d
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
 
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616
 
After the Storm

 

Note:  Great poetry has more permanent staying power than even GORILLA GLUE!  The line, “. . . weep to have that which it fears to lose.” has filled my heart and mind for as long as I can remember.  (I was raised when Shakespeare was read in schools, and of course he was prominent on our bookshelves at home.)

We certainly do “weep to have” that which we fear to lose.  The only antidote is to volitionally celebrate every moment that we do have with those we love.  The moment is all we can be sure of, temporally speaking.  The older I grow, the more I rejoice in the moment.  I think of each precious family member, and even my dog, and I simply can not let myself dwell on my very human tendency to “weep to have”.
 
Margaret L. Been — March 31, 2016

 

 

 

LIGHT!

SON

“Then spoke Jesus again unto them saying, “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

The above scene greeted us early Friday morning, after Thursday’s snow and sleet storm.  The trees in the park outside our front door, and the woods beyond, were laden with crystal.

The sun rising on the crystal created a scene that was spectacular beyond words.  I ran for my I-pad, knowing that the strength of the late March sun would soon thaw out our neighborhood and turn it to that very welcome green again.

The old rule for picture taking is “Don’t face the sun.”  But that rule had to be broken, as the sun was (pardon the obvious pun) the star on center stage.

What a timely metaphor—the sun turning our world into a view of incredible light and beauty after Joe and I had spent the entire grey, sleety day before on the road, tending to routine necessary business such as: delivering our tax info and meeting with the accountant; getting our Honda’s emission tested; shopping for groceries. etc.

Still the day was pleasant.  I have a habit of knitting while Joe is driving, and that is a serenity saver on stormy, slippery freeway days.  We enjoyed a nice lunch at Olive Garden between errands.  We arrived home late in the day, exhausted but very thankful that our missions were accomplished and we were safely back in our cozy condo.

And then Friday morning, and LIGHT!  Despite the inevitable grey, sleety days, we have LIGHT.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died for our sin, that we can be one with Him and walk in the light.  He is risen.   He is alive.  He is our LIGHT!

Margaret L. Been — March 26, 2016

SON 2

 

Sunday morning sky

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22-23

Have you ever witnessed a crazier pre-election circus?  Has the world ever before seemed to be crowding in so quickly, closer and closer?

Have communications ever been more constant and all-encompassing—inescapable unless one stuffs his or her electronic devices in the back of a remote drawer and goes for a long, solitary walk?  Or even better—the very best of all—unless one plunges head first into the depths of God’s ever-faithful, ever beneficial Word!  God’s Word is the only place to go for rest, for comprehension, perspective, and power.  God’s Word not only mined daily, but stored as priceless treasure for instant, ongoing accessibility and application.

While the clouds grow thicker so does our call, as Christians, not only to share the Gospel of our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—but to mirror His indwelling Life, so that the fruit of His Holy Spirit can be seen by all, everywhere we go!  In simple terms, we are called today just God’s people were instructed centuries ago:  to live the Christian life, as mandated in Galatians 5:22-23.

Not to rant and rave*  over all the things that are amiss (although, when watching the news I sometimes forget!)  Not to rend our clothes, Old Testament style.  Not to scream at those who are “out of line”.  And certainly not (even worse!) to scream at those who are in line.

The fruit of the Spirit is the genuine outworking of Christ’s life in us, the “hope” (sure-fire fact!) of glory.  Whatever we are doing as the fruit is displayed, and wherever we may be, will differ with each individual whom God calls.  As we focus on our Lord, He directs our whatever/wherever.  Our “Full time Christian Service” may be public (as in church, missions, or workplace) or private (as in home and/or friendship circles).  Both are equally valid and vital.  But fruit there must be, if our witness is to be effective.

I have blogged near-volumes on this topic, and God-willing I may continue to write more.  The issue is ever-green because (probably like every other believer, and definitely as Paul recorded in his letter to the Romans) I struggle with reflecting God’s fruit—even given prayer and immersion in His Word.  Patience (longsuffering) is a bit of a challenge for me; and as we all realize about the fruit of God’s Spirit—we cannot select.  We need to present the whole basket.

God knows His own.  If I bungle my witness, His own people will still be saved for Eternity; they haven’t lost a thing.  And when I refuse to relax and let Jesus display His fruit through me, I am nonetheless still saved for Eternity.  But I will have missed the here-and-now blessing that would have come had I been in sync with our Lord in that instance.

Margaret L. Been — March 21, 2016

*The most famous sermon in U.S. history is without a doubt, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  God used this masterpiece (not only of Scripture truth but of literary construction) to pave the way for the movement of His Holy Spirit in an unprecedented revival on our continent. 

Did Jonathan Edwards shout, and rave?  No way.  His delivery was unremarkable, and it has been recorded that he actually read his sermons. 

It was God’s truth in this sermon, not the human vehicle, which set the course of American Christianity from the 1700s on.  In fact, had Edwards ranted and raved, his words may never have taken such a profound course.  The man might have attracted more attention than the message.  God chose a quiet-mannered man for the most spectacular movement of the Holy Spirit in our nation.

Although “Sinners” is the most famous of Edwards’ individual messages, it has been his sermons of joy-filled wonder at the magnificence and beauty of God that theologians (and everyday readers like me) have cherished, found edifying, and re-read again and again for rich spiritual food.  MLB

Coming Home (2)

“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings . . . .”  Malachi 4:2a

Malachi’s promise of Christ’s second coming to establish peace and justice on earth has always fascinated me, because the Son is spelled “Sun”.  Strong’s Concordance simply states that the Malachi 4:2 noun originates in a root meaning “to be brilliant” with implications of coming from the East.

One doesn’t have to be profoundly philosophical to grasp the metaphorical connection between our Savior and the sun which He created.  Nature fell with that nefarious duo in Eden’s garden, yet we still have glimpses of nature’s original intent—to reflect some of God’s attributes and truths.  Thus I believe that God prompted the prophet Malachi to understand the metaphor and explicitly present it to stimulate our hearts and minds toward an ever-deepening realization of our Savior—thus appropriating that reality to our everyday lives.

As we reflect on the role of our astronomical sun as the source of physical energy, warmth, and light—therefore supporting life on earth—we comprehend the reasoning behind the fact that pagan cultures had (and still may have) a “sun god”.  It’s kind of a DUH!  One understands the rationale behind the fallen mind, however mistaken.

Those of us who spend countless summer hours stretched out on a lounge chair soaking it up are called “sun worshippers”.  With no apologies, I do luxuriate in the sunshine which the SON has created to be a source of energy and light on earth.  Even my history of skin cancers (one of which was an in situ melanoma) fails to shadow or curtail my sunbathing.  Some things are not negotiable.  But I certainly DO NOT worship the sun;  I worship the SON.  And I praise Him for His metaphor implicit in the astronomical sun.

Years ago nature played a huge role in leading me to consider the existence of God.  I could not escape the teleological argument:  the fact that there had to be an intelligent designer of the universe.  It could not have just “happened”, as so many believe today.  But for years I failed to understand that this Intelligent Designer was personal and knowable.  I was an agnostic, and because I loved nature I tried to convince myself that wandering in the woods or lolling on a beach was “worship”—an acknowledgment of the Designer, Whomever He might be.

Obviously wandering and lolling did not “cut it”.  As awe-inspiring as nature is, it could not remedy the fact that I desperately needed to be redeemed and removed from the bondage of sin.  Nature can only point us to God; it cannot go beyond its witness to the intricacies of creation.  Once we have come to know our Savior, we begin to discover many spiritual illustrations in nature; but nature cannot save us from sin.  Only the “Sun of righteousness” can do that!  And only the Son can heal.

In his comprehensive and practical book THE FOUR LOVES, C. S. Lewis examines the limits of nature—affirming that although nature shows us God’s glory, it will never lead us to salvation or Christian growth.  We must have Scripture study, church, and prayer.  While stringent copyright restrictions prohibit my quoting from Lewis’s treatise of love per Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity, I recommend THE FOUR LOVES for further delving.

Meanwhile only God’s book, our Holy Bible, presents us with a total and complete revelation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—the “Sun of righteousness” who will indeed return to heal our sin-sick, fractured earth.

Margaret L. Been — March 4th, 2016

 

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