The Gladness of Nature

KeyWestWhenever a person starts naming poets, there aren’t too many who would put William Cullen Bryant on their list. He lived in the 19th Century, and he became a lawyer because poetry didn’t pay the bills. He was also a political supporter of another poet named Abraham Lincoln, and he introduced Lincoln at his speech at Cooper Union in New York in 1860. It just shows how people can go about their daily lives and still find time for writing and reading poetry.

This is my third Poem In Your Pocket day, and my previous selections are here and here. I find myself relating to poetry more than I did when I was younger, and it’s comforting to know that centuries of poets are still out there for me to discover.

The poem that I chose, and shared with my colleagues from work since I won’t be in the office today, is Bryant’s “The Gladness of Nature” which reads as follows:

The Gladness of Nature

by William Cullen Bryant

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space,
And their shadows at play on the bright green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There’s a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There’s a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There’s a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he’ll smile thy gloom away.

I like this poem for several reasons. Since Earth Day just passed, I wanted something with a nature theme. I also wanted something not too overly long, and relatively easy to follow. And I wanted something to remind me of the time that I just spent on Spring Break in the Florida keys. There are no palm trees or beaches in this poem, but the idea that sunshine and nature can cheer a person up is enough for me.

Please feel free to share poems in the Comments below. And happy Poetry month to everyone reading this.

The Gladness of Nature

by William Cullen Bryant

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space
And their shadows at play on the bright-green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.

– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20299#sthash.RUUpypT4.dpuf

The Gladness of Nature

by William Cullen Bryant

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space
And their shadows at play on the bright-green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.

– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20299#sthash.RUUpypT4.dp

Getting creative with my morning tea

haiku

Over the past month or so, I’ve found myself writing poetry. Haiku, in particular. I like the discipline involved with expressing an idea within seventeen syllables. The classic five/seven/five structure of a haiku forces a would-be writer to make some choices. “Dad” must sometimes be used in place of “Daddy.” In a similar vein, “brilliant” can be conveyed as “bright,” and “happy” can also be stated as “glad.”

Economy of syllables is important, but the meaning itself is paramount. It’s something like trying to fit a thought into 140 characters on Twitter. It can be a challenge, but it’s also exciting to see it come to completion. And if it doesn’t, that’s OK too. This is nothing of great importance, after all.

The creative medium that I use for this is a black Sharpie and the paper from teabag envelopes. I tear the envelopes in such a way that leaves them intact, with a small bit of white space that I think of as a creative challenge. I don’t have the time to compose anything terribly profound, but I can make the time to string a few syllables together. Anyone could do that, if they decided it was worth the effort.

An example of the haikus that I write appears above. It’s a bite-size piece of word play, determined by the vocabulary I’ve built up over a lifetime of reading, together with lots of counting off syllables on my right hand, since I write with my left.

Haikus can be created in three minutes or less, and the process that I use gets my creative juices flowing. That’s the sort of thing that can have benefits all day long.

More tea and poetry

image

Sometimes a little scrap of paper is all you need to get creative. Instead of taking the Lipton tea bag out of its envelope, I leave it attached and see what comes to mind.

We’re waiting for the snow to arrive as I type this out, 12 hours after I wrote this little throwaway haiku. Hopefully the snow won’t be too bad, but that’s still to be determined. My creation will last for longer than the snow, at least.

Words that are still relevant today

thompson_maurice

I’m sure that nobody reading this has ever heard of Maurice Thompson, and that’s OK because until earlier today, I had never heard of him, either. But he wrote something, more than a century ago, that seems as current as if it written yesterday.

I came upon his work entirely by accident. The particulars of it are beyond the time and inclination that I have to describe it at this moment. But the discovery was a couple of lines that were published in a poem called “America,” way back in 1892. The lines read as follows:

And join our song, oh, every alien tongue

Make thunder-music on our highest wall

Since he died in 1901, Maurice Thompson never saw a football game on TV, and the concept of a Super Bowl ad would have probably been amusing and/or frightening to him. But Super Bowl ads are certainly our highest wall today, because of all the attention they receive. And the Coca-Cola ad “America Is Beautiful” has been in the news lately, as it is a multi-lingual celebration of America itself.

The internet has changed many things over the past decade, but it has allowed for Thompson’s work–or at least a few words of it–to come to my attention today, and it gives me a platform to share them with whoever might care to read it here. It’s not as beautiful as America itself, but it’s not a bad thing, either.

Finding beauty in all things

john-keats

I’m currently doing some research at work, learning about some of the great writers over the years. And the story of John Keats has to be one of the most humbling ones that I’ve yet come across. He once had to decide between being a surgeon or a poet, and being a poet was–and still would be–the less “sensible” option.

Surgeons save lives, and they generally make a good living at it. Poets, on the other hand, don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. And so it was with Keats, who was forever in debt and never made any money at doing what he did. To make matters worse, his health was bad; so much so that he passed away at the age of 25. I can scarcely imagine what two and a half decades–and no more–would be like.

But what struck me, in the Wikipedia entry that taught me more about Keats than all of the formal schooling I ever had, was his near obsession with beauty. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” may be the most well-known words that he wrote, followed by “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty. That is all you know on this earth, and all ye need to know.”

But it was a letter that Keats wrote to his friend Fanny Brawne, a year before he died, that really caught my eye. He seemed to be remorseful that he hadn’t done more with his life–and who doesn’t feel like that?–when he wrote the following words:

“I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make my friends proud of my memory – but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d.”

Had Keats chosen a surgeon’s life for himself, I never would have heard his name, and I sure wouldn’t be writing about him right now. But since he went with what his heart wanted to do, he produced poetry that will live on for as long as anyone reads English verse. Nearly two centuries later, it’s safe to say that he did, in fact, leave behind some immortal work. Any of us should be so fortunate.

Keep a’ goin’

Keep a Goin2

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day, and it will be the second year I’m taking part in it. Last year’s poem, and the story behind it, is here.

I came across the poem I’m using this year in a small volume of poetry that I acquired a number of years ago. I’ve never been very much into poetry, and doing this is definitely outside of my comfort zone. But that could be the best reason for doing it, in the end. Pushing ourselves beyond what we know cannot be a bad thing, or else we’d never get to anyplace new.

The obscurity of Frank Lebby Stanton, and an eccentric poem that he wrote more than a century ago, makes Keep a-Goin’ the perfect fit for me. If you’re going to bother someone else by reading them a poem, three stanzas is about as much of an opening as you’re likely to get. And Stanton’s dialect is something else this poem has going for it. But the poem’s message–that perseverance is needed, whatever life may throw at you–is the real reason why I chose it. It speaks to me and perhaps it will speak to others, as well.

To the people of Boston, and everyone else who has suffered disappointments or setbacks recently, I offer Frank Lebby Stanton’s simple, yet unmistakable words of advice: Keep a’ goin’!

Presenting a young poet’s first work

My eight year-old daughter simply loves to read. And one of the things that comes with reading, it seems to me, is a proclivity to write. Naturally, this is something that I’d like to encourage in whatever way I can.

When I came across this poem–buried in one of her folders at the annual end-of-the-school-year backpack cleanout–I knew that it had to see the light of day, somehow. And so, I proudly present my younger daughter’s first published poem (since there’s a “Publish” button that I have to click to share this with the world):

The Beach

by S.H.

It was a beautiful March night.

The wind was whirling around me.

I was doing cartwheels in the sand.

I was walking by the shore.

I looked down at the sand and…

YUCK!

A dead fish!

I’m out of here!

I’d call this a pretty promising start, but I admit that I’m a bit biased. And now it’s out there, for all the world to see. Others will follow, as they are discovered.

An old poem made new again

April 26, 2012 was National Poem in Your Pocket day. I wasn’t aware of this until I saw something on Facebook about it. After all, that’s what grabs our attention anymore, isn’t it?

I’m not always a follower of this kind of thing, but I wanted to participate in this. It was probably the poetry angle that drew me in. As my first thoughts often lead me to baseball, I wanted to have a copy of Edward L. Thayer’s Casey at the Bat at the ready, to share with whoever I might encounter.

Thayer’s poem has endured since it was first published, under a pseudonym, in 1888. Its fame was spread by an actor named DeWolf Hopper, who basically made his living by reciting this poem in town after town on the live theater circuit. Every time he would perform, people clamored to hear the poem performed dramatically. Having performed it live once myself, I can tell you there’s a lot of fun that can be had with it. Here’s James Earl Jones’ version of it.

Casey tells a great story of optimism and confidence and ultimate letdown. It wouldn’t be the same if Casey had hit the home run to win the game. I think it appeals to us because even the mighty, almost superhuman  Casey is still prone to failure, even with the game on the line and the home crowd on his side. Casey is Goliath, after all, and human nature often pulls us toward David, instead.

I found a copy of Thayer’s Casey in the pages of A.G. Spalding’s America’s National Game. The book was first published in 1911, but I found a 1992 reprint of it in a bookstore many years ago, and have kept it at my desk ever since. It tells of the earliest days of the game’s history through the eyes of a baseball lifer, one whose name appeared on all major league baseballs until the mid-1970s. Rawlings has made the official major league ball since then.

But before I could take the book to the copier, I began perusing some of the other baseball poetry that appears in Spalding’s book. And I found a great poem that I knew I had to carry with me instead of Casey at the Bat.

I Googled the name of the poet–S.D. Richardson–and nothing came up. No Wikipedia entry, or anything else that might identify who he or she was. The initials made me think of J.K. Rowling, and the story of how her initials were used to mask her identity as a woman when the book first came out. The “S.D.” could mean “Stephen Daniel” or “Stephanie Danielle” or a hundred other things. But in the absence of any evidence, all I can do is wonder about the meaning of these initials.

Not only could I not learn anything of the poet’s identity, but I couldn’t find the poem online, either. It seems that when the world started moving onto the internet, shortly after this 1992 reprint of Spalding’s book appeared, Richardson’s poem didn’t make the leap.

And so, the history geek and the baseball nerd that I am is proud to present what might be the first digital rendering of S.D. Richardson’s “Base Ball.”

Base Ball

by S.D. Richardson

‘Tis a glorious game, with a well-earned fame,

A diamond in royal setting;

And its beautiful rays light up our days

From the field with an emerald fretting.

So day after day I am watching the play,

Absorbed in the outings and innings;

Though I risk not a dime, I’m gainer each time,

And the joy that it gives is my winnings.

But sometimes on a day my mind is away

From the game with an idle perusing,

And I think of another so much like the other

That I blend them together in musing:

‘Tis the old game of life, with its conquest and strife,

With its wonderful outings and innings;

Where the umpire of fate forever doth wait

Giving gladness and sorrow for winnings.

There’s the man at the bat, he’s a king on that plat,

And he watches the ball that is fleeting

Till his blow meets the same, and it soars o’er the game

And receives from the people a greeting.

‘Tis the man who doth wait while fortune that’s great,

Changing hands like the shuttle in weaving.

Comes and touches his mace, and he runs every base,

While the people shout “Luck is retrieving!”

See the pitcher, whose aim is surely not tame,

While his curvings are often perplexing;

And the poise of his fist, with the twist of his wrist,

To those running the bases is vexing.

‘Tis the man who in fame hits the mark all the same,

Though he throws a curved ball there to do it;

And the one who would steal a base on his field,

Will have cause to remember and rue it.

And the catcher with nerve that all good might deserve,

And a visor drawn low for the danger;

With a smile by that base that’s as cruel to face

As the blow of a spiteful sky-ranger–

‘Tis the man of strong nerve, whom no terror can swerve,

And who laughs where the peril is thickest;

And he guards the home base ‘gainst the strong in the race,

And outs them with hand that is quickest.

There’s the guard at each base who, alert in his place,

Knows the work and performs it with pleasure;

And the fielders that stand with the game well in hand

And consider high balls but a treasure.

‘Tis the men of each age, who on history’s page

Have written their names with their actions;

Catching fame on the fly, though it comes from the sky,

And ne’er bothered with foolish attractions.

So the old game of life, with its conquest and strife,

Ever moves, with no pause or delaying.

The wise and the great and the foolish with fate

on the field of the great world are playing.

And the games will ne’er close ’till the books shall disclose

All the wonderful outings and innings,

With the sun ‘neath the West and the players at rest,

And the blest with their bountiful winnings.

This poem made the connection between baseball and life, long before any t-shirts ever did. It’s a bit hard to follow in parts, but the first half of the final stanza is just great. I read that part to some colleagues today and they were impressed by it.

National Poem in Your Pocket day was certainly a big success, for myself and for S.D. Richardson. I’m certainly no DeWolf Hopper or James Earl Jones, but if I’m the one to bring this poem into the digital age, then I’ll humbly accept that role. Thanks for reading, as always.