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Archive for the ‘Classic poetry’ Category

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!  🙂

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Winter Breakup.jpg 2  “To think to know the country and not know

    The hillside on the day the sun lets go 

    Ten thousand lizards out of snow!”  Robert Frost, A Hillside Thaw

Although I admit to sometimes dreaming about warm, sunny places during our long Northern winters, I would not chose to trade my home locale with anyone—anywhere, anytime (except for an occasional week or two in New Mexico).

I truly wonder if friends who live in warm places ever experience springtime euphoria—that crazy, headlong, potentially mindless and blithery joy known as SPRING FEVER, when poetry floods one’s soul!  Perhaps that euphoria is common in four season climates around the world.  Certainly in the USA, where April has been designated as NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!

Anticipating April, while loving every remaining moment of tumultuous Wisconsin March, here are some snatches of poems from kindred souls—in addition to the above lines from one of my most beloved kindred spirit poets, Robert Frost.  Also I’ll plug in some of my watercolor renderings.  The marriage of a poem and a painting is called Ekphrasis.

—————————————————————————————————

“The Skies can’t keep their secret!

They tell it to the Hills –

The hills just tell the Orchards –

And they – the Daffodils!”  Emily Dickinson, #191

Traces 2

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore . . . .” 

William Butler Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innesfree

Homeward Bound--1

“Now as I was young and easy under the apple bough

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green . . . .”

Dylan Thomas, Fern Hill

. . . the dawn's early light

“O April, full of breath, have pity on us!

Pale where the winter like a stone has been lifted away, we

        emerge like yellow grass.

Be for a moment quiet, buffet us not, have pity on us,

Till the green come back into the vein, till the giddiness pass.” 

Edna St. Vincent Millay, Northern April

From Seed

These are only a whisper of the many poems and poets whom I read again and again—immersed in the introspections, nuances, innuendoes, and life metaphors gleaned from a sensitivity to the turning of the year.  I believe that sensitivity is shared by most poetic four-season souls!

Margaret L. Been, Spring 2015

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Treasure the Moment!

Leo 7 monthAlicia's wonderlandThree preciesrecent workIF

There is no room for naivité in today’s world.  All I can do in light of the barrage of news we receive is to go on preserving and treasuring the world I’ve always known.  Indeed, my insular world may last only a moment—so I treasure each moment as a gift from God.

Beyond a series of moments on earth lies an eternity of joy for the Christian believer.  Meanwhile my precarious earth moments are filled with prayers, family, friends, a corgi, music, paintbrushes, knitting needles and yarn, spinning wheels, gardens indoors and out, poetry, books/books/books, antiques, junk, never ending batches of soap from our kitchen, and a whole lot more.

A common thread connects the moments: BEAUTY.  I know I’m not alone in determining to pursue and celebrate Beauty—and to TREASURE THE MOMENT!

Margaret Been, February 2015

soap 6

Baby D again

Again Sweet Mia

knitters

Daane Boys

IF

T1

T2

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Reflections on Home

®®New Play Area

My philosophical mother left me with many quotes on which to ponder, one of them being:  “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.”

That certainly is a fact, as each of us was created to be unique.  Each of us is an original piece of art.  Although we may have similarities we were not intended to be prints or reproductions of another human.

I try to understand other people whose style and preferences differ from mine, and it’s just plain fun to discover whom people are and what “makes them tick”.  Perhaps the best way to get acquainted with another person is by visiting in that individual’s home.  I want to believe that most people who spend considerable time in their homes have some pastime they love, some kind of a life within their walls.  This life may be reflected via the books on the shelves, the cookbooks and appliances in the kitchen, baskets and tables overloaded with crafting supplies, the presence of houseplants indoors and gardens outside the windows, a dog or cat (or both), and of course a musical instrument—perhaps more than one.  The presence of art on the walls and family photos on shelves and tables says a lot—if indeed the walls, shelves, and tables are laden with pictures which are worth a thousand words.

But occasionally when visiting a home I draw the proverbial blank.  No books, no projects, no art to reveal a period or style of interest, no messes, no pets, no plants beyond the “tastefully correct” one or two—potted in matching, stylized planters rather than those ice cream buckets and COOL WHIP® containers which frequently hold my overflow of greenery.  Not even a happily messy computer corner!  Sadly, only one piece of equipment normally characterizes the apparently wasteland homes:  that ubiquitous television.

Quite possibly, the homes which appear sterile, sans personality, may not actually be like that at all.  When one is a guest, one seldom sees all the nooks and crannies.  In the most generic of furniture store homes, there are apt to be hidden away places where the residents read, craft, make music, or whatever.  As interested as I am in people and their lifestyles, I certainly don’t want to be crass and ask to see their hidden recesses—the NO ENTRY zones of a house.  So I give my host or hostess that benign benefit of the doubt.  Certainly they have some life passion, some activity that causes them to jump out of bed each day and say “HELLO, WORLD!”  Probably my host and hostess simply have chosen not to divulge exactly whom they are and what they are about.

I accept the preference for anonymity, and I understand that I may be the odd one in today’s world.  I LOVE to share.  I love to be transparent—an open 1000 page book with loads of information on every page.  As much as I love to know, I love to be known.  And as far as I know, that’s the way life was originally intended to be!  Unlike that pair in the Garden after the fall, I have absolutely no desire to hide from God or anyone else!

Meanwhile, since Joe and I have moved into a four room condo it is easier than ever for visitors to ascertain what we are all about.  Our interests pervade every corner of our home, for all to see and enjoy.  We have never had more of ourselves on our walls, tables, shelves, and floors—and we are delighted beyond expression with the overflowing abundance of our current time of life.  Crowded, YES!  Even CLUTTERED—although to me “clutter” bespeaks random chaos, and I will have none of that.

Tidiness and order rule the day, and we can always stuff one more meaningful object into the order of our home.  Minimalist gurus (who for some odd reason find no significance in memories manifested all around them, no joy in the colors and textures of a life well-lived) will call us “hoarders”.  I call us “LOVERS OF LIFE”!  Thus the spinning wheels (which really spin beautiful yarn from luxuriously fleeced sheep’s wool) lurk behind a favorite easy chair, accompanied by baskets of wool and more baskets of yarn—plus needles and other accoutrements of knitting.

My piano hosts an assortment of music books—and musical scores printed out and taped together so that I can play without turning pages.  Our kitchen contains the necessaries—toaster, coffee pot, blender, crockpot—plus a representation of bygone eras in funky kitchen collectibles.  Our dining area buffet serves as a display area for my soap industry—while hundreds more soaps are stacked in drawers and stored in huge plastic bins under furniture and in closets.

Our bedroom is also my art studio, with a messy table for acrylics, collaging, etc., and another table for watercoloring.  Crammed into a bedroom corner is my writing studio with my very own laptop, printer/scanner, and voluminous files (I will always love paper).

My husband’s den is his bit of Heaven on earth with the TV, his own computer/printer/scanner, filing cabinet, posh reclining chair (suitable for snoozing on), and even a daybed for that occasional afternoon “lie down”.  Joe keeps his clothes in a dresser and closet in his den, while our enormous bedroom closet houses my clothing plus bins and shelves laden with more soap and somewhere between 600 and 800 paintings.  I tell our children they’ll have a post-humous fortune on their hands some day.  (Obviously, I’m joking!  My art is amateur stuff, paying dividends of endless and infinite fun!)

Both living room and bedroom have indoor garden areas—with tropicals in the east facing patio door, and succulents in our south facing bedroom window.  And everywhere are BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS.  Shelves groan with books, tables support the weight of them, and floors feature book towers in every room.

All of that—including a zest for collecting with a partiality for Victorian era art glass produced by our great American 19th century glass companies, English china, and most anything vintage and funky—goes a long way toward telling our guests whom we are, in this happiest of homes which I’m inviting you to tour with me today!

The above play area is a magnet for our great-grandchildren (16 children, ages 10 and under) who visit whenever they can.  And my happy little kitchen beyond.  (Actually, it’s Joe’s kitchen for the duration of my post-surgical, arm-in-sling adventure.)

Fiber studio

My fiber studio resides behind a living room easy chair.  The spinning wheels are not for “show” (although they are very beautiful, made from cherry wood).  The spinning wheels spin, and produce luxury yarns for sweaters, scarves, and hats.  Years ago, Joe made the pine dry sink for me.  It houses my collection of English flow blue china and my Grandma Kate’s English (Aesthetic Period—circa 1885) Indus wedding dishes featuring graceful birds and foliage reminiscent of the British Empire in India.

Most of the baskets in our home are homemade.  The one with the coral insert is an Irish potato basket, and below it with gorgeous ultra-marine blue/violet fleece inside is an egg basket—both crafted by moi.  The larger basket, in the style of Wisconsin Native Americans’ basketry, was woven by our daughter-in-law, Cheri Been.

make art

One of the many perks in our condo home is the fact that Joe and I each have our very own bathroom.  What fun is that!  Joe’s is the larger of the two, and it contains a shower which he loves.  (I HATE showers, probably because they remind me of that most detested of all scenarios—high school gym class!)  I have a tiny bathroom, but it contains a TUB (one of the great loves of my life).

I painted the blotchies on the upper walls, and our grandson, Tyler Been, painted the gorgeous New Mexico-ish red lower walls.  This is my Louis L’Amour bathroom—replete with cowboy pictures, and photos of family members on horseback.  As you can see on the above left, I have hung some of my own Southwestern art here as well.

TPJ 2

Here is another shot of my sweet loo.  The Civil War era folding chair is a family heirloom, with needlepoint painstakingly stitched by my mother many decades ago.  I treasure the no-longer-available glass ARIZONA TEA® bottles, plus my collections of all things horsey and Western.  (The oil painting on the left is not mine.  It was a rummage sale prize, unearthed a few years ago.)

Art 3

The messy inner sanctum of my studio is open to all who venture here, since we always have our company put their wraps on our bed.  That’s an old fashioned thing to do, perhaps dating back to when closets were not so prevalent as they are today.  To me, wraps on the bed are the most gracious way to go.

soap 5

No home photo shoot would be complete without a glimpse of my soap.  I brag about my soap way too much.  It’s excellent, and we have used nothing but my home made soap since 1976.  Today my soap is far removed from that crude stuff the pioneers made over an open fire, using fat drippings from their slaughters and kitchen grease cans.

I use the finest vegetable oils (olive being the Lamborghini of oils!) and pure, rendered tallow—all of which I purchase online from COLUMBUS FOODS in Chicago.  High grade cosmetic pigments go into the soap for color, plus quality fragrance oils.  I have online sources for these ingredients, as well.  Soap making is an expensive hobby, well worth ever drop of cash and elbow grease involved!  And we saponifiers always have a beautiful gift to offer our family members and friends—the gift of the finest soap.

Ambience (2)

Old painted furniture, dried hydrangeas, British India style shelves, platters and bowls which don’t fit in cupboards and thus are relegated to the floor, family photos, sparkling glassware including Vaseline glass with glass fruit, cookbooks, a teapot and cups and saucers (just a few of a plethora about the home), and a toy bear (also one of many) co-exist in happy harmony.

Now if you happen to be thinking, “This is really weird!” just remember:  “It takes all kinds of people to make a world!”

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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IF

A few weeks ago a kindred spirited friend, Shari—who loves many of the English poets whom I love—mentioned Milton’s sonnet On His Blindness.  I responded with a whopping “YES!”  I hadn’t read that sonnet for years, but I still recalled the poignant last line:  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  I thanked Shari for the déjà vue, and that evening I located my beautiful antique volume of John Milton’s poems.  Here is the sonnet, followed by an explanation of why it has meant so much to me in recent weeks:

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton
 
As many of you know, our daughter-in-law, Rosemary, is facing a stand off with breast cancer.  The first post-op reports were encouraging, but complications have been discovered and both chemo and radiation will be needed.  For certain, 15 years ago (and perhaps as recently as 6!) I would have been on a Denver-bound plane—probably more than one time, to help Rosemary, our son, Karl, and their family during the difficult days ahead.  Sometimes physical issues ramp up so gradually, I had to mentally pinch myself to realize that NO—I probably should no longer travel “to help out”.  
 
I cannot “Hoover” (as they say in England) my own carpets, let alone someone else’s.  Fatigue often renders me useless for purposes other than reading, blogging, knitting, writing letters, or painting after 6:00 p. m.  My 82 year old husband and I are so attached to each other that leaving him alone (even in the company of a sweet Pembroke Welsh corgi) might break my heart (or his, or both)! 
 
We have an amazingly energetic daughter, Debbie, who loves to travel, loves her brother and his family (just as I do), and is incredibly deft at helping most anyone, anywhere!  Debbie has already been to Denver once since Rosemary’s surgery 2 weeks ago, and may quite possibly return!  Thus the re-reading (again and again) of On His Blindness ministered powerfully to my soul which had been considerably troubled by the realization that I’d no longer be flying to Denver, to help out. 
 
“They also serve who only stand and wait.”  And while I stand (sit or lie down) and wait, I pray!  I’m quite certain that Milton did that as well! 
 
Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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Every year at this time, since I began blogging, I’ve commemorated Pearl Harbor with a photo of the disaster.  This year, I can’t bring myself to feature the photo.  Recently, whenever I think of Japan I think of the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Necessary from a military standpoint?  Yes!  Unthinkably tragic from a human standpoint?  YES! 

We need to remember history, mainly because we could benefit from learning.  History could provide foresight and wisdom.  But it’s been shown again and again that people do not learn from history.  We may remember history, but we simply play it again.

As Christians, we are commanded to forgive.  Forgiveness is the very core of our faith, and the reason why we are standing here rather than decimated and plowed under by God’s wrath.  Yet there are historical characters whom I cannot forgive in my fallen humanity:  especially Hitler, for his atrocities to God’s people the Jews.  And Stalin. 

And, going way back—Oliver Cromwell.  I read a lot of documentaries on Irish history.  I’m currently experiencing a formidable challenge knowing that I have to forgive the British Empire, not only for its mindless brutality in Ireland but for centuries of power lust and domination in India and Africa.  My husband, always the wit, suggests that I gather up all my English tea and dump it in the harbor a mile from our home.

However when I think England I want to think tea and English country gardens—along with Shakespeare, Jane Austin, Keats, the Brontës, Thomas Hardy, John Galsworthy and other authors too numerous to name.  I want to think our precious English language, and English theatre which (in my opinion) is second to none. 

When I think Russia I want to remember ballet and Tchaikowsky who, tortured as he was in his personal life, left the world a legacy of hauntingly beautiful music.  When I think Germany I want to recall Bach and Beethoven—and the tradition of gemütlichkeit reflected by German Americans in the cultural history of Wisconsin.  When I think Japan I want to focus on centuries of exquisite art traditions:  painting, poetry, gardening.

Every nation on earth has its shame as well as its pride.  Individuals are born sinners.  National shame is sin multiplied.  America is not exempt from national sin.  Just ask the decendants of the Cherokee and other Native Nations who walked the Trail of Tears from the deep South to Oklahoma and points West.  Or ask the descendants of slaves.

There is only One Remedy for sin, and that was accomplished for us at Calvary.  God’s Remedy for sin came to us as a baby, born in a crude and humble manger some 2000 plus years ago.  He is coming again!  “And He shall reign forever and ever!”

Meanwhile I will remember December 7th, 1941.  Remember, but move on!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

In my lifetime I’ve read English language poetry, French poetry in the original French, and the poems of many world cultures in translation.  My passion for the poetic voice grows as I age.  There are many poets (including me) and poems (including mine).  But then there are GREAT POETS AND GREAT POEMS!   I have volumes of “GREAT”, and I’m wearing the pages down while building my soul with reading.

Of all the poets I love—including John Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Butler Yeats, John Masefield, Dylan Thomas, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and many others—two rise to the top like cream:  William Shakespeare and Robert Frost.

The significant feature that Shakespeare and Frost have in common is a combination of clarity and simplicity, clothed in rhyme and meter which the music loving reader can never forget.  The clarity of message has “holding power”, as lasting insights are gleaned and preserved from the simplicity of language used by these two poets.  There is no embellishment, no embroidery work in their verse—no tricks to stumble over and confuse the reader, unless you can call alliteration a “trick”.  I don’t think it is, any more than the classic use of harmonic chords in a musical composition could be called a “trick”. 

Clarity is impossible apart from simplicity.  Consider the plain language used by both Shakespeare (if you discount a few archaic words like “forsooth”) and Frost.  Plain language conveys life wisdom, as nothing else on earth can do.  Apart from reflecting on life wisdom, we humans cannot live sensitively and circumspectly as we were designed to live.  When plain language is embodied in soul-imprinting rhyme and meter, the reader grows in his or her understanding of life!  Here is a case in point:

“Blow blow, thou winter wind.

Thou are not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude;

Thy tooth is not so keen,

Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.”

William Shakespeare, AS YOU LIKE IT

Simple English words, clarity of meaning, and universal life wisdom—-encompassing many cultures and customs!

Robert Frost spins his life messages in earthy symbols and metaphors, which any lover of poetry (and nature) can easily decipher.  “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep” (inviting the poet to retreat and give up,  or just “get away from it all”).  “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep . . . .”  (The poet cannot give up because he has people who need him, loved ones who depend on him, work yet to be done on earth). 

Metaphors and symbols are never obscure when 1) They are based on widely familiar visuals, 2) They are expressed in plain language, and 3) They speak to universal emotions and issues.  Great poetry may be profoundly personal, but it is never entropic; it is universal in scope.  Great poetry is simple, clear, understated, and it is musicalhence its lasting power.  Just as haunting scores (such as the melodies from PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) role around in our head, structured poetry stays in our mind.  Great poetry is unforgettable.

Robert Frost wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” at what may have been the darkest hour of his personal life.  He wanted to give up, but he didn’t.  Instead he focused on the fact that he had promises to keep.  Dark times are a human universal.  You have dark times.  I have dark times.  But like the poet, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep!  We are inspired and uplifted by Robert Frost’s resolve!

Clarity, Simplicity, Musicality, Wisdom:  These are the ingredients of a fine poem.  These are also some of the ingredients of a good life!  The ages have provided a wealth of great poetry.  The world would do well to slow down, read the work of past poets, and reflect!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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