The Children’s Hour

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1820) was a prolific poet who became famous during his lifetime, unlike many other poets.  One of his poems, “The Day Is Done,” I memorized twenty years back and still recite in my mind at night when I can’t fall asleep. I find poetry much more relaxing than counting sheep.

In his own autobiographical book, Clive Cussler relates an incident from Longfellow’s life. Delayed in New York by his editor, the poet rushed to to dock to catch the ship that would take him home. By the time he got to the pier, however, the boat was pulling away from the dock and a gap of several feet was between Longfellow and the deck of the ship. He almost could have jumped it, but didn’t.

That night the ship went down. (In his book Cussler explains what caused the disaster.) The next morning newspapers along the Eastern Seaboard carried the tragic story and when Longfellow’s family read it, they were grief-stricken. Henry himself was shocked and immediately sent his family a telegram to inform them he’d missed that fateful ride.

In my National Poetry Month verse for today, the poet shows in a unique way how he would always treasure his children.

The Children’s Hour

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, o blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

An Epic Poem

During National Poetry Month I’ve been thinking about various types of poems and the history of poetry in the English language. So many poets have enriched our world by their verses, and I’m trying to pay them a little tribute this month.

You may be familiar with the poem, Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!) who told the angel that he loved his fellow-men. The following poem, which also tells an interesting tale, was penned by the same writer. I’ve smoothed out a few spots to make it easier reading.

The Glove And The Lions
by English poet Leigh Hunt
1784 – 1859

King Francis was a hearty king and loved a royal sport,
and one day, as his lions fought, sat looking on the court.
The nobles filled the benches, with the ladies in their pride—
amongst them sat the Count de Lorge with one for whom he sighed—
and truly ’twas a gallant thing to see that crowning show:
valor and love, and a king above, and the royal beasts below.

Ramped and roared the lions, with horrid laughing jaws
they bit, they glared, gave blows like beams, a wind went with their paws.
With wallowing might and stifled roar they rolled on one another
’til all the pit with sand and mane was in a thunderous smother.
The bloody foam above the bars came whisking through the air;
said Francis then, “Faith, gentlemen, we’re better here than there.”

De Lorge’s love o’erheard the King, a beauteous lively dame
with smiling lips and sharp bright eyes, which always seemed the same.
She thought, The Count, my lover, is brave as brave can be;
he surely would do wondrous things to show his love of me.
King, ladies, lovers, all look on; the occasion is divine;
I’ll drop my glove, to prove his love; great glory will be mine.

She dropped her glove, to prove his love, then looked at him and smiled;
he bowed, and in a moment leaped among the lions wild.
The leap was quick, return was quick; he had regained his place,
then threw the glove, but not with love, right in the lady’s face.
“By heaven,” said Francis, “rightly done!” and rose from where he sat.
“No love,” quoth he, “but vanity, sets love a task like that.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Disclaimer: I deplore violent so-called sport, especially when it involves cruelty to animals. I found that part disgusting, but it couldn’t be omitted.

The Birch Tree

Tonight my contribution to National Poetry Month will be a verse by one of my favourite poets, Edgar Albert Guest. According to Wiki he was often referred to as “the People’s Poet” and penned some 11,000 verses in his time, most of them upbeat and inspirational.

He wrote lines the common people could understand; his subjects were about home & family,  everyday life, and old-fashioned virtues. He often encouraged readers to be thankful, quit grumbling, and do their best whatever the circumstances —as the following poem illustrates. If Mr Guest sounds overly moralistic at times, we must remember that he lived from 1881-1959, saw the country go through two World Wars as well as the Stock Market crash and the Great Depression. Not an era to wimp out.

The Birch Tree

Out of a jutting rock, wind blown,
a birch tree braves the world alone.
A crevice in the granite first
captured the seed; a wave immersed
that tiny embryo. The sun
warmed it — and thus was life begun.

Scant food the passing breezes give
and yet that tree contrives to live!
Cruel the clutch of granite gray,
yet the brave roots from day to day
into the great stone deeper creep,
a surer hold on life to keep.

Twisted and bent some limbs appear,
but still undaunted year by year
those roots in cheerless channels sunk
courageously support the trunk
and green against the lake and sky,
a birch tree catches every eye!

Man thinks he knows what nature wills.
But much he plants the winter kills,
while far away from human care
and on a cliff by storms swept bare,
denied the commonest of needs,
a birch tree silently succeeds!

From his book, Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest,
©1934 by the Reilly & Lee Co

 

Oh, The Stress!

TIRED TO DEATH

by Mary J MacColl

An imaginary conversation between a young society belle and her friend, Grace, with off-side orders to her maid, Marie. The poet has skillfully portrayed the attitudes of the pampered daughter in a prosperous family, circa 1870.

Oh, Marie, come quickly and take off my shoes;
Now, bring my white peignoir and let down my hair;
I’m tired to death! Grace, you must excuse
me to Alice and Captain Bellair.

Not a moment of rest all this day have I had
since my coffee was brought me at ten
with the papers. Each item of interest I read—
by the way, I’m disgusted with men!
A second Maud Muller young Moneysworth’s wed,
when he might — but no matter — and then

an hour was spent dressing, a letter I wrote
to Bell Breeze — she’s a love of a girl!
Drove to Russell’s, was fitted,
then penned a sweet note
to Fred Fairleigh — that card case of pearl

he sent me — a bet on the races last week.
Yes archery is quite the rage;
a cute polo pony’s my very last freak —
I’ll never fall back of the age.

Had breakfast at one, then a short nap I took;
read Daniel Deronda till three;
I must say it’s tedious — not my style of a book —
George Eliot’s too solid for me.

Now, Southworth and Flemming are just to my taste,
and French novels are quite au fait
Kate Norris called next — oh, how tight she was laced! —
and I’m sure she was painted today.

While we talked, Clara Alden rushed in with a gush,
I thought she would strangle me quite.
Her brother is charming; you know, dear — don’t blush —
I saw that flirtation last night.

Next Mordant dropped in — he’s a donkey, but then
he’s worth a cool million or more!
Ma thinks him the nicest and wisest of men —
to me he’s a horrible bore.

But I don’t mean to snub him; his T-cart and drag
are the most stunning turn-outs I’ve seen;
While driving today we met Marion Flagg,
and with envy she fairly turned green.

One cannot well blame her, he is such a catch,
and the poor girl is growing passé.
How she has maneuvered to make a good match!
What! Grace, six o’clock did you say?

Why, I must be dressing; at seven we dine
at Delmonico’s. What shall I wear?
The German at Granger’s commences at nine —
shall I bang, frizz or scollop my hair?

How frightful to think I have not a new dresss;
I’m sure I’ve appeared at least twice
while at Newport, in each of the robes I possess.
My white mull —do you think that is nice?

Come Marie, make haste, you are always so slow —
I wish I had time to take breath.
Well, darling, good-bye, if you really must go

Thank goodness! I’m tired to death.

From the book, BIDE A WEE by Mary J MacColl,
published in 1880 by Peter Paul & Brother of Buffalo, NY.

I found this book in a sale somewhere and it’s still in fairly good shape. Gold trimmed edges and letters! And on the first page are endorsements of Miss MacColl’s poetry by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry W Longfellow, Joaquin Miller, and John G Whittier. She definitely hung out with the right crowd, back in her day!

I’m posting this in honour of National Poetry Month.

April Morning

In honour of National Poetry Month, I’m going to post two poems by one of my favourite poets of long ago, SARA TEASDALE

MORNING

I went out on an April morning
All alone, for my heart was high,
I was a child of the shining meadow,
I was a sister of the sky.

There in the windy flood of morning
Longing lifted its weight from me,
Lost as a sob in the midst of cheering,
Swept as a sea-bird out to sea.

This next one is from her “Vignettes Overseas”

STRESA

The moon grows out of the hills
a yellow flower;
the lake is a dreamy bride
who waits her hour.

Beauty has filled my heart,
it can hold no more;
it is full, as the lake is full,
from shore to shore.

STRESA appeared in The Collected Works of Sara Teasdale, first published in 1907.