31 May 2010

Memorial Day: Patriotic Poetry

One of my favorite things is my church's fifth-Sunday sing-song at evening worship.  Last night we sang several patriotic songs at the request of DAR member and super-patriot Jenny F.  I remember singing some of these songs at church and school as a child.  Do children still learn patriotic songs in school?  I hope so for they are a part of our history and our heritage.  The songs we sing together affirm and create community. 

At least two of these patriotic songs were written by women.  Since I am always interested in the ways in which women made their voices heard at a time when they were denied equal access to public discourse, today's blog comments on these women and their patriotic songs and concludes with a poem I wrote.
  1. Julia Ward HoweThe Battle Hymn of the Republic, which as a child of the South I was not permitted to sing (as Uncle Shelby Calahan said, "we will not so dishonor the memory" of our ancestors who died in the War between the States) until I left home for college.  {I thought a hundred years and four or five generations was long enough to carry a grudge.}   Julia and her husband, Sam Howe, were abolitionists and during the war worked on the U.S. Sanitary Commission which was concerned with reforming unsanitary conditions in the Union camps and hospitals--disease, dysentery, typhoid, malaria killed two men for every one killed in battle.  (Other notable women of the Sanitary Commission include Louisa May Alcott, Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix.) The Howes' work with the commission was recognized by President Lincoln and in 1862 he invited them to the White House.   In Washington, Pastor James Freeman Clarke who had read some of Julia's poetry asked her to write a new song for the war to replace John Brown's Body.   Howe's account of inspiration while writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic:  I awoke the next morning in the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment, found that the wished-for-lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, I shall lose this if I don't write it down immediately....  I lay down again and fell asleep, but not before feeling as if something very important had just happened to me."  The poem, published in the February 1862 issue of Atlantic Monthly, made Julia Howe an instant celebrity.  I love this song because it clearly articulates the basis of social justice in Christ and in the "glory" of God.  "Our God is marching on."
  2. Katherine Lee Bates:   American the Beautiful  was written in 1893, published in 1895 in The Congreationalist, and Bates revised the words in 1904 and again in 1913.   Before being published with the music Materna written by Samuel A. Ward in 1910, it was sung to other tunes, notably Auld Lang Syne.  Was Samuel Ward related to Julia Ward Howe?  I don't know.  As Michael T. said last night the original poem was a bit different:
O beautiful for halcyon skies,  
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!            
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through
wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!


O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice,
for man's avail
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!


O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

Finally, a poem I began on the morning of  11 September 2001 shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  I finished it several months later on Memorial Day 2002.  The poem is a riff on America the Beautiful or perhaps a dialog with Katherine Lee Bates.

Oh, beautiful for spacious skies...
In a world with too little room
on this Tuesday morning,
death hurtled through the clouds.
...for amber waves of grain...
While we dwelt in peace and plenty,
a hate harvest ripened,
an explosion of horror, watched.
...mountain majesty... fruited plain...
Dreadful September day
when innocence crumbled to ruin
and fear took us hostage.


America, America...
Pilgrims fleeing persecution,
patriots overthrowing tyranny
stood once where we now stand,
...sheltered by God-shed grace...
cried "Freedom;" paid the price.
More than once the price paid in blood;
common man sought uncommon good,
beyond the shining seas
for brotherhood does not
in isolation live.
Costly, too high, too dear—but, still—
America, America...
We are resolved; tears dim
our eyes, not our vision.
Still, alabaster cities gleam.

12 May 2010

Once upon a time...

I love fairy tales.  I have always loved fairy tales.

Since one of my current interests is children's literature, I'm getting to revisit my own childhood reading. A couple of months ago I read Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know by Hamilton Wright Mabie, Doubleday, 1905. KindleLink: Project Gutenberg books by Mabie

When I was in the 3rd & 4th grades--yes, two grades in the same classroom, at the same time, with one teacher--there was a bookshelf along the back filled mostly with volumes of  fairy tales.  I especially remember The Golden Book of Fairy Tales, translated (from the French) by Marie Ponsot and illustrated by Adrienne S├ęgur.  Link:  Terri Windling's tribute Segur  The book, published in 1957, was well worn when I first saw it 1959 and it was one of the few on the shelf that I actually had to share with my classmates.  When I thought I could get away with it, I hid the book in my desk and read it or studied the illustrations when I finished Mrs. Vardeman's boring lists of glossary words that we were forced to copy into notebooks. Seeing little use to copy things that I could look up in a dictionary, I was already in training to become a reference librarian.

I was fascinated by the various printed versions of Snow White.  I became interested in the transitions that stories undergo from generation to generation, and from story to book to movie.  Walt Disney's  Snow White (I secretly thought she should skip the prince and the palace and stay at the lovely little house in the woods with the animals) and Fantasia (which I credit for my first experience of classical music) were and perhaps still are my favorite movies.  Mrs. Vardeman also had us listen to music while we used Crayolas to "draw what the music makes you feel."   For a brief tour of comparative fairy tale illustrations visit  more fairy tale illustrations & illustrators

One of my rediscovered delights is Der Struwwelpeter.  Heinrich Hoffman (1809-1894) who wrote and illustrated the book in December 1844 as a gift for his three-year-old son.  Link: illustrated Project Gutenberg Struwwelpeter  You may notice a resemblance between Hoffman's drawing of Straw Peter and the movie character of Edward Scissorhands, a movie fairy tale which is evocative of numerous other fairy tales and movies.  "Children are bewitched by this book because it challenges them in ways that adults can no longer fathom nor recall. Struwwelpeter stands or falls on the credo that children can bear to be scared by art and thereby grow."  Link: review of the new Dover edition by Ellen Handler Spitz in The New Republic

Der Struwwelpter is one of several books that Evelyn Whitaker mentions in her novels.  In Gay, [Little Brown, W.R. Chambers, 1903] Oliver Bruce is writing a book "...in London he would be more within reach of books of reference, and be able to consult authorities, and get in touch with those strange and mysterious powers, the publishers, of whom Mrs. Bruce spoke with bated breath, dimly imagining them to resemble Great Agrippa in Struwwelpeter with his gigantic ink-pot." 

I remember being very pleased with the Great Agrippa illustrations.  The story spoke to issues of racial equality which, even as a child, were important to me.  I was also pleased with the ink pot since I was the proud owner of my first fountain pen and ink bottle with which I wrote Mrs. Vardeman's lists in a blotty cursive that was never up to her standards of penmanship.  Hoffman's The Story of the Inky Boys is undoubtedly referenced when later in the book the children, Gay and Do, put a poppy flower in Oliver's ink pot. "...the two children always called his flat the Ogre's Den, and Oliver surmised that the festive mother might have encouraged the idea... The children had added on their own horrifying and blood curdling details selected from Jack the Giant Killer, with a flavour of the Three Bears."

Lovers of fairy tales will fairy tale illustrations will want to take a peek at Neil Gaiman:  Instructions.  Everything you'll need to know on your journey by, illustrated by Charles Vess, Harper-Collins.  The book was first published as A Wolf at the Door, Simon & Schuster, 2000.  Vess dedicates to the above mentioned Terri Windling. A reviewer has called it "how to survive a fairy tale" but I think it could as easily be called "how to survive life."  "Trust dreams.  Trust your heart, and trust your story."
From "once upon a time" to "happily ever after" this is the life I read...

06 May 2010

What I'm Reading...

The list for this month is much shorter than usual.
As I have noticed before when I'm writing I read less.

I've been thinking about what I learned at BWWA 2010 and exploring websites related to Victorian literature.  I've been reading technical stuff on archives, libraries, and website design.  I've been exploring HASTAC - Humanities, Arts, Science Technology Advanced Collaboratory which I had not been aware of until I was interviewed (link on the sidebar) but this subject is fascinating to me.  link:  Bridget Draxler's current blog on the future of thinking. 

I've been catching up on periodicals and catalogs.  Shopping on-line for clothes;  they've quit making my trousers!  I hate to shop so it's a good thing that my view on fashion is:  "Fashion is for those who have no sense of personal style."

Probably spending too much time on Facebook but I'm enjoying reconnecting with my cousins, classmates, and kids I know & loved from my Sunday School classes.  

Fiction:

Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn:  Mary Barton. 1848. Kindle. Project Gutenberg.   This book is essentially a love story with characters about whom it is easy to care.  That empathy is the snare to engage the reader in a discussion of capitalism and the conflict between mill owners and workers, in an investigation of power, money, and faith.
Bedside book:

Brueggemann, WalterThe Prophetic Imagination.  2nd edition.  Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2001.   Brueggemann is never boring but his texts are incredilbly rich;  I expect to linger over this reading.   The first edition (1978) is the "first publication in which" Brueggemann says he "more or less found my own voice as a teacher in the church."  I am an admirer of Brueggemann and my mature views of scripture have been significantly shaped by his writings.  In this early book I recognize the roots of some of the later works--particularly Message of the PsalmsAwed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth, the prayers of Walter Brueggman lives on my bedside shelf so that he prays for me when I cannot pray for myself.  In February 2005, Bobbie and I attended his lecture:  Psalms:  the good, the hard, the surprising.  Some quotes from my notes:  "The Psalms invite  us to push the edges of our emotional alertness to the reality around us."  "...faith requires candid entry into suffering..."  "good authoritative speech... generates a new world... why our speech must be imaginative and not cliched."  "Breath is a gift; it is not a possession.  Breath is the property of the life-giving God."  "There is nothing in your life that you cannot bring to the presence (orientation) to the absence (disorientation) of God."  "Biblical faith traffics not in certitude but in relationship."   "Church... too much an echo of the culture...  need to recover our idenitity...  as  ...the place where the truth is told and things are called by their right names..." " God responds to authentic trouble..."  the purpose of  worship is "to re-preform creation... people come to church overwhelmed by chaos... liturgy transforms chaos into creation."  "...the promise of new orientation is not a quiet deal between me and Jesus.  It is a BIG cosmic event in which I may participate."
link: some of Brueggemann's texts available on-line