Wandering Lonely as a Cloud

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘william-wordworhtAfter the dark cold of winter, the sight of golden daffodils tossing their sprightly heads in the breeze is a harbinger of spring.

In April 1996, I organized tour to England for Fr. Edgar Parrott, an Episcopal priest and friend, who wanted to offer his congregation an opportunity to explore the roots of the Anglican faith by visiting cathedrals and churches in the south of England.

Thirty people joined the two-week tour that stopped in London, Brighton, Bath, Oxford, and Cambridge. We visited Canterbury, Winchester, Chichester, Wells, Coventry, and Ely cathedrals as well as numerous village churches and historical sites.

Shepherding 30 people on and off of airplanes and tour buses, in and out of hotels, handling baggage logistics, and managing a tour itinerary is hard work. By the time we reached the second week of the tour, I was ready for time alone.

At Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford, I let the group go with our tour guide while I wandered off across the road and down a path into a wood. The peace and quiet of the wood was inviting. I walked along the path listening to the soothing sound of the breeze through the trees.

At length, I came to a bridge that crossed a quiet stream. The reflection of the sky and trees on the glossy surface of the still water was magical. As I looked across the stream, my eyes were delighted by hundreds of sprightly daffodils. The sight took away my breath. In that instant, I stood with William Wordsworth coming upon a host of golden daffodils. I’ve never seen daffodils anywhere that compare with the beauty and profusion of those in England.

To freeze the moment, I raised my camera, composed a shot, and snapped the shutter. The photograph of the daffodils at Stratford is the perfect souvenir. I had the photograph enlarged, printed, and framed to hang in my home. I have only to look at it to recall the bliss of that solitary moment.

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Lifting and Leaning

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘ella-wheeler-wilcoxMiss Baumgartner read Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem “Lifting and Leaning” to my ninth grade English class no doubt to illustrate a point. I brought the poem home to my parents. Mom and Dad liked the poem so much they bought a copy of Best Loved Poems of the American People that became one of my family’s best loved books

I memorized “Lifting and Leaning” and recited all or pieces of it often. I was thrilled that Mom asked me to recite “Lifters and Leaners” as part of a program at church.

When I was in school, learning a poem meant memorizing. The poetry we learned in those days was didactic, intended to teach a moral lesson. “Lifting and Leaning” is an example of such poetry.

In sixth grade we were given a new poem at the beginning of each month to learn (i.e., to memorize) and to recite before the class by the end of the month. Of those poems, I recall titles only of Leigh Hunt’s “Abou Ben Adhem,” and a nonsense poem by Charles Edward Carryl called “The Plaint of the Camel.”

Memorizing poetry and being able to recite it dramatically was important to me. Impressed by anyone who recited poetry, I tried to imitate them. I loved the sound of poetic language and learned many poems on my own trying to fit them into the conversation wherever I could. Memorizing was easier then; and, I can recite many of those poems to this day.

We read Romeo and Juliet in Miss Baumgartner’s class. Required to memorize and to recite 20 lines in front of the class, I memorized the whole of Act II, Scene 3 in which Romeo asks Friar Laurence to perform their marriage. Anyone want to hear me recite Shakespeare?

Licinius

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘horace-youngRobert Pinsky, former U.S. Poet Laureate, read Horace’s ode “To Licinius” on the PBS Newshour shortly after 9/11. Horace’s counsel to Licinius is to pursue the middle way, a path of evenmindedness and equanimity. The middle ground and compromise are far from what is heard in today’s angry ad hominum public discourse.

What strikes me about Horace’s ode to Licinius is his counsel that things will not always be bad. Apollo picking up his lyre to awaken “the music sleeping upon the strings” is an image of hope.

“Expect reversals,” Horace says. Change is constant. The way open today may not be open tomorrow. There is as much to be learned from way closed as way open. Opportunity favors a willing spirit and an open mind. Remain resolute, but keep a short sail in strong winds to avoid the risk of being thrown off course. In other words, be flexible. Those who do best choose the middle way.

Julia or Her Clothes

Upon Julia’s Clothes

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Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration each way free,
O how that glittering taketh me!
—Robert Herrick

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‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘robert-herrickIn six lines with a simple rhyme scheme (AAA BBB), Robert Herrick creates a feeling of intense passion. But who is the passion for? Is it for Julia or for Julia’s clothes?

Herrick gives us no clue. Would he find the clothes as attractive without Julia? Is it she who gives the clothes the characteristics Herrick finds appealing? It could be he burns with passion for Julia, an exquisitely beautiful woman who moves with such grace in fine silk fabrics that she endows them with the qualities of liquefaction, vibration, and glittering that “taketh” him.

On the other hand, maybe Julia doesn’t inspire his desire. It’s just the way she dresses, her choice of fabric and color that sends him into a reverie of the sort of woman he’d like to see in such fine silks.

Though Herrick refers to her as “my Julia,” she may be only a fantasy or a woman he observed and fancies he’d like to possess. The poem says more about infatuation with an aspect of a person’s being than about the person herself. Having experienced intense infatuation more than once, I understand the possessiveness the feeling engenders. I’ve also experienced the disappointment of learning that appearance is often more appealing than the actual experience of knowing the object of my interest.

The poem is intriguing because it fosters wild speculation. Is there a short story or a novel in this poem? I wonder.

Islands of Retreat

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘william-butler-yeatsI was in the third year of college when I read William Butler Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” The poem expresses Yeats’ desire to be in a place of peace, quiet, and simplicity to pursue his art. The tone of the poem resonated in a deep place within me.

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” reminds me of Thoreau’s “Walden.” In further reading about Yeats, I discovered he was, in fact, influenced by Thoreau. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard evokes a similar experience in her description of a year spent in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley.

Relocating to another place for two or three months is appealing. Living in a small space, furnished with only the bare necessities, it is possible to relax and to enjoy the simplicity of life.

I planned last spring’s trip to San Miguel de Allende as a retreat. With no house to clean and no laundry to do for ten weeks, I could focus on writing.

For his retreat, Yeats sought an island in a lake. I lived in a studio apartment in a city. Yeats had the hum of the honey bees. I had the wail of the helote man. I didn’t plant beans. There was no place to garden. I bought fruit and vegetables at an organic farmers’ market. The neighborhood was quiet. I didn’t see or hear neighbors in the three other apartments in the building. It was as if I were alone on my own lake island.

A retreat allows one to see the world from a different vantage point. Yeats sought a retreat at Innisfree. Dillard went to Tinker Creek. I went to San Miguel. Distance facilitates perspective.

In San Miguel, I focused on writing. With writing, I get closer to understanding my life and the world around me. The more I write, the more I understand. The more I understand, the more insight I am able to incorporate into living a life of authenticity.

The insight gained from my retreat allows me to transport myself to that space whenever I want or need to be there. With a thought, I can arise and go to Innisfree, to San Miguel, or to any place of peace.