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Fruitless Steps

Off to the vegetable garden

Off to the vegetable garden

“If we are to describe the gardener’s March according to truth and old tradition we must carefully take note of two things: (a) what the gardener is supposed to do and wishes to do, and (b) what in fact he does, not being able to do more!”

So spake Karel Capek in his delightful book The Gardener’s Year published in 1931. No less true today.

Seduced by the brilliant sun and the mild temperatures we’ve had for the past few days, melting the snow, I told my husband we had to go down and look at the vegetable garden and discuss the plans I have for arranging the new cold frame and some new plantings. We trudged along, sometimes sinking up to our knees in the icy drifts, but to no purpose. There is no way to see the borders of the garden as they are and what space new elements might take. There is still nothing to do outside.

As Capek continues his March lament he says, “Yes, only when he becomes a gardener does a man appreciate those threadbare sayings like “the bitter cold,” and “the merciless North wind,” “the harsh frost,” and other such poetic cursings; he even himself uses expressions still more poetic, saying that the cold this year is rotten, damned, devilish, cursed, beastly, and blasted; in contrast to the poets he does not only swear at the North wind, but also at the evil-minded East winds, and he curses the driving sleet less than the feline and insidious black frost.”

Alas, as he says, “Yes, nothing can be done; it is the middle of March, and snow lies on the frozen ground. Lord be merciful to the little flowers of the gardeners.

Thank you Carolyn Gail for instituting Gardener’s Muse Day and getting us all inspired.

Tis a Gift to be Simple

Simple Gifts
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

This little song was written by Elder Joseph Brackett at the Alfred, Maine community of Shakers. Some will be familiar with the simple tune because of its inclusion in Aaron Copeland’s work Appalachian Spring.

It seemed so appropriate to me that composer John Williams also used tune in his composition called Air and Simple Gifts which was played at the celebratory inauguration of President Barack Obama. Itzhak Perlman on violin, Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Gabriela Montero on piano and Anthony McGill on clarinet had to sync their instruments because the cold weather prevented them from staying in tune, and yet the melody and sentiments could not have been more perfectly chosen.

This is a time when we are searching for simplicity, perhaps even being nudged energetically into that simplicity. We are turning and hoping that we all come down right, in the valley of love and delight.

More Muse Days posts at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago!

Love is Sweeping the Country

Love is Sweeping the Country lyrics by Ira Gershwin

Why are people gay
All the night and day,
Feeling as they never felt before?
What is the thing
That makes them sing?

Rich man, poor man, thief,
Doctor lawyer, chief,
Feel a feeling that they can’t ignore!
It plays a partIn ev’ry heart,
And ev’ry hearts is shouting “Encore!”

Love is sweeping the country!
Waves are hugging the shore;
All the sexesFrom Maine to Texas
Have never known such love before.

(Addional lyrics sometimes used)

Spring is in the air-
Each mortal loves his neighbor.
Who’s that loving pair?
That’s Capital and Labors.

Florida and Cal-
lifornia get together
In a “festival”
Of oranges and weather.

Boston’s upper zones
Are changing social habits,
And I hear the Cohns
Are taking up the Cabots.

Cities are above
The quarrels that were hapless.
Look who’s making love:
St.Paul and Minneap’lis!

There are actually more verses to this song from the daffy political Broadway show Of Thee I Sing! with music and lyrics by the Gershwin brothers.

With Muse Day falling in the month we inaugurate a new president and prepare for a new administration, I immediately thought of the 1931 Gershwin Broadway musical in which John P. Wintergreen, the presidential candidate, runs on a platform of love. This year we are all filled with excitement and ready to reach across the aisle with love. Hip, hip, hooray for love!

You’ll find links to other Muse Day posts at host Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.

Muse Day – December 2008

Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doeth take away
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perciev’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Shakespeare, of course, was meditating on death (at age 36!) but to me the images of boughs shaking in the cold, ruin’d choirs, and fading sunset are literally the images of the coming of winter. My ruined choirs are not the ruins of dissolved churches and monasteries, but the bare trees bereft of the songbirds who have all flown to more salubrious climes. In every season, I love the fields, woods and skies of our little town of Heath, and hope not to leave ere long.

More Muse Day postings at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.

Muse Day November

Spring and Fall
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

to a young child

Margaret are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for,
Ah! As the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie:
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now mo matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

I read this poem in high school, of course, but it didn’t make much impression. I think this is not a poem for teenagers, or at least not teenagers on assignment whizzing through a chapter in a textbook.

I did not come upon it again until I was a young mother in 1966 and was reading a piece in McCalls Magazine by Jean Kerr, the wife of then NYTimes theater critic Walter Kerr. She was the mother of 5 little boys and in The Poet and the Peasants she describes her family’s adventures with what the children called The Culture Hour.

It wasn’t easy but, with lots of parental help, lots of work, she makes clear, they had the boys learn a poem by heart every week and recite it on Sunday night. Amazingly, over time, it became an accepted part of the family routine, and the boys’ recitations became really good.

It is easy for the reader to imagine the teen age Christopher, described by his mother ‘as a little world weary, with a particular affinity for the cynical or sardonic. . . I can still see him – he must have been fifteen, messy and mussed with dirty sneakers and a deplorable shirt – reciting Browning with all the hauteur and severity of George Sanders:
‘That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive . . .
She had
A heart . . . how shall I say? . . . too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.’

George Sanders chilled into George C. Scott as he came to the lines:
‘ . . . This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together.’”

A chill indeed, and weeping for My Last Duchess.

John is described as having a trace of ham, and I agree that it must have been stirring to have a 12 year old leap onto the coffeetable and declaim Alfred Noyes The Highwayman which concludes with the highwayman
‘Down like a dog on the highway
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch
Of lace at his throat.’

I love the thought of those five boys, over years going through ‘yards of poetry, volumes of poetry’ which included Spring and Fall by Hopkins. It made enough sense to John, young as he was, listening to Colin recite.

‘ John Anderson, my jo. John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonnie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo.

John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And monie and canty day, John
We’ve had wi’ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.’

Jean then wrote, “I already knew the poem by heart, so how it happened that I heard new meanings in it I cannot exactly explain. All I can say is that after Colin had finished, to the horror of the boys and to my own acute embarrassment, I burst into tears. An uneasy silence prevailed until John said, very quietly, ‘Mom, it is Margaret you mourn for.’

And he was right, you know. He was absolutely right.”

I haven’t been able to tell my affection for this poem with a very long story becuse in my heart it is bound up with Jean Kerr and her sons. It seems very odd, even to me, but by telling my story you have all got a great helping of The Muse.

Muse Day

Christina Rosetti was talking about love, of course, but love in a world of abundance and delight. This has been an excellent year for apples. The harvest is so good that some people have complained about branches breaking with the weight of so many apples. As I passed the trees bent low with thick set fruit, I immediately thought of this poem, A Birthday.

MY heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

The photo is not of my apple tree, but one of the young trees in my neighbor’s orchard. I do have ancient apple trees in the fields around my house which are bearing heavily this year. They are not so beautiful, but they are edible and useful.

This is my first Muse Day post. I have enjoyed so many of the verses from other bloggers that I am glad to finally have something to share.