Google+ Followers

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

For the first time on the web: Margaret Fell's "A Few Lines concerning Josiah Coale," 1671

Thanks to fine sleuthing by John Jeremiah Edminster, we now have the entire text of Margaret Fell's only known poem to put on line, an elegy on her friend, Josiah Coale (circa 1632-68), who died at around age 36. I had previously found 11 lines of this 44-line poem, but the rest seemed to have disappeared. It deserves to be on the web in its entirety, so I have placed it below.

Coale, like many early Quakers, traveled far and wide to spread the word about Friends, visiting both Holland and the American colonies. He was beaten and jailed by the Dutch and the Puritans. He received a warmer welcome from the Susequehanna Indians, with whom he negotiated a land deal.

Isabel Ross's Margaret Fell: Mother of Quakerism depicts Fell as appreciating Josiah's vibrant personality and strong faith. Fell was 18 years older than him, and saddened by his death. Though not one to write poetry, perhaps it was Coale's own poem, “A Song of the Judgments and Mercies of the Lord," written  in 1662 that inspired her own verse. According to Quaker Artists's History, a facebook page (
He said his poem was “written at the movings of the spirit of the Lord”. The piece concerned the new revelation brought by Christ as reported by John in the New Testament. An excerpt:
“Until Johns Ministry I came to see, which was the great’st of all,  The Prophets which had gone before: from the great’st unto the small,  For then the way was made so straight, the path was made so plain  That, th’ Coming of Gods Son I saw in his great power to raign;  Whose kingdom now is Come with power, the Lamb is sets on’s throne.”
Like Coale's work, Fell's 1671 poem uses rhyming couplets. The poem, not surprisingly, is
religious, celebrating Coale's faith, discernment, vigilance, and sufferings as he traveled abroad. Interestingly, a variation of Mary's Magnificat--"My should doth magnify the Lord--" is put into Josiah's mouth as "Let God be magnified, that was his [Josiah's] Song." In the final couplet, Fell, now presumably speaking for herself, again uses the word "magnified" in praise of God, connecting both Josiah and herself to an extremely important female figure. Mary, as Fell argues in Women's Speaking Vindicated, indeed preached in her magnificat, a beautiful retelling of Hannah's speech about being a humble handmaiden of the Lord. This Lord notably takes cares of the poor and lowly, as Mary celebrates:
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 

 The final couplet of Fell's poem sounds Shakespearean, but it's unclear how familiar Fell was with Shakespeare. Quakers shunned the theater, and Shakespeare had not yet secured the superstar status he would after 1700. She might, however, have read his sonnets.

I particularly like the intimate, personal nature of the opening stanza: dear Josiah, the repetition of "gone" emphasizing the sense of personal loss, and the gentle, domestic image of Josiah resting on God's bosom.

There's also a poignance in the last verse, as Fell, who would have been 54 at the time, remembers that God, and implicitly Josiah lying in his bosom, "never waxeth old."

A few lines concerning Josiah Coale

Is dear Josiah gone? Yes he is gone;
He’s gone from us, in the Eternal one
Where he from all his labor is at rest.
I’th Bosom of the Father, who is forever Blest.

Ah Valiant Champion for God’s Truth, so pure,
Thy Name’s as precious Ointment, thy memory shall dure
In upright Hearts, from them nothing can hide,
Thy worth, thy faithfulness, all shall abide,

To their refreshment, though thy Body’s laid
I’th bowels of the Earth, yet as thou said,
God’s Majesty was with thee, and the Crown
Of Immortal Life is on thee; and that will renown

Thy Name to Generations, yet unborn,
When they shall hear, Josiah  did adorn
The Gospel of our Lord by Doctrines that was found,
Within his Native Land, yet he was found

In foreign Lands, spreading forth the fame
Of his beloved Lord: and that his Name
Might be Advanced, thought no Travel long
Let God be Magnified, that was his Song:

His Travels they were sore, within, and eke without:
His Recompense was large; yes, there’s no doubt.
Now he shines as a Star, of no small magnitude,
Who, by the Power of God, hath convinced a Multitude.

Many are the Children, he hath gathered
To the Knowledge of the Lord, and Christ their Head.
He rightly did divide the Word of God;
Gave Milk to Babes; but Fools are for the Rod;

He sweetly comforted the Meek:
Ah, he was strength unto the Weak;
But terrible he was to the Stout-hearted,
Who verily was smote before he parted.

The Workers of Iniquity by him
Were trampled under foot; the man of sin
Was sorely wounded by his powerful Hand
The hypocrites before him could not stand;

 But by the Power of God he did them flay:
But now, alas, he’s gone, he’s gone away,
And we who loved him, though our Loss is great;
Yet being fixed in God, we are compleat;

There meet with his Spirit, who gathered is
Into the Mansion of Eternal Bliss.
Praised be God, and Magnified be He
Who never waxeth old, nor chang’d can be.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Settings of Refuge, Bachelard

In Light the Dark, a series of essays edited by Joe Fassler, writers pick a passage from literature that influenced them and explain why. Until Ellen asked the question "what influenced you," I didn’t think about what passage I might pick if tasked to do this assignment. But the question is a good one: what would we—or I—choose? 

I find as I get older, this answer doesn’t get easier, and, of course, what I would select today might not be what I would choose in six months or a year. I would probably pick, today, the scene in Persuasion where Anne in Bath comes across Admiral Croft peering at a picture of a boat in a shop window, a boat that he criticizes, mildly, for not being rendered realistically enough. It’s the kind of vignette in Austen that fascinates me and contains so much compacted in a small space. In a like way, I might pick the scene early in War and Peace when the young Sonya and Natasha, escape during a party and sit together talking excitedly about love in the alcove in the hallway where the nurse sleeps on a pallet flung on a chest. 

More generally, though, this question leads me to understand I have been deeply drawn to literature that describes compelling domestic interiors that provide a warm, safe haven: the inn in the Sign of the a Twisted Candle where Nancy Drew and her friends find shelter from the storm, the attic bedroom Meg sleeps in as the storm breaks in the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time, the snug cabin where Laura and her family are safe from the cold winter, the dark woods and the bears and wolves in Little House in the Big Woods, the cosy interiors of Little Women, the cosy kitchen in My Friend Flicka, a story about a family much more than a horse, the delicate crystal chess piece cities in Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles—this is childhood literature that has made the deepest of impressions, so much so that I remember these scenes to this day. As Bachelard writes in The Poetics of Space, the "shocks"--I would instead call them deeply felt and imagined imprints--that words make on us often happen in our youth, when the images they convey are startling and new. As he puts it: 
When we are at an age to imagine, we cannot say how or why we imagine. Then, when we could say how we imagine, we cease to imagine. We should therefore dematurize ourselves.

As an adult, I find the same impetus draws me to find a deep, appealing humanity (as readers are meant to) in the old fashioned room above Mr. Carrington’s shop in 1984, where Winston and Julia hope to escape their society. Winston likens it to living in the on inside the Victorian coral paperweight he purchased, where thick, wavy glass encloses a piece of delicate coral. I remember being deeply drawn too to the faded colors of the 18th century rooms that Dorothea visits in the opening of Middlemarch, although I know that the minute description is meant to convey the pallid, arrested marriage Dorothea is stepping into with Casaubon. And I add the fleeting, poignant instances of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, himself either inside or outside archetypes of home. Even my adult passages from Persuasion and War and Peace have a childlike quality: Admiral Croft is literally trying to  imagine himself into a picture, and no adults would every plop themselves excitedly for a conference on a nurse's bed as Natasha and Sonya do.

 A surprising number of the quotes below contrast the threat of the outside--a storm, the dark woods, winter, the ominous arrival of humans on Mars, a totalitarian police state--to the haven of the interior domestic space, even, if, in some cases, the interiors contain threats to the domestic order that must be overcome.

From A Wrinkle in Time:
In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. .... The window rattled madly in the wind, and she pulled the quilt dose about her. Curled up on one of her pillows a gray fluff of kitten yawned, showing its pink tongue, tucked its head under again, and went back to sleep. ...
In the kitchen:
The cocoa steamed fragrantly in the saucepan; geraniums bloomed on the window sills and there was a bouquet of tiny yellow chrysanthemums in the center of the table. 
From Little House in the Big Woods:

All alone in the wild Big Woods, and the snow, and the cold, the little log house was warm and snug and cosy. Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie were comfortable and happy there, especially at night. Then the fire was shining on the hearth, the cold and the dark and the wild beasts were all shut out, and Jack the brindle bulldog and Black Susan the cat lay blinking at the flames in the fireplace. Ma sat in her rocking chair, sewing by the light of the lamp on the table. The lamp was bright and shiny. There was salt in the bottom of its glass bowl with the kerosene, to keep the kerosene from exploding, and there were bits of red flannel among the salt to make it pretty. It was pretty. Laura loved to look at the lamp, with its glass chimney so clean and sparkling, its yellow flame burning so steadily, and its bowl of clear kerosene colored red by the bits of flannel. She loved to look at the fire in the fireplace, flickering and changing all the time, burning yellow and red and sometimes green above the logs, and hovering blue over the golden and ruby coals. 
From The Sign of the Twisted Candles:

Bending their heads before the storm, the trio dashed for the tea room, revealed now as a rambling building of the Civil War period, its central structure a flat-roofed, three-story tower flanked by long story-and-a-half wings. There was a dim glow of light from the ground floor windows, and in the arched window at the top of the tower, a sturdy candlelight gleamed welcomingly. ... The girls found themselves in a long hall, lighted by curiously twisted candles in sconces on the walls. To the left and the right arched doorways opened into high ceiling rooms where tables, each with a candle fluttering in the draft, were set in rows. Half a dozen couples looked up curiously  as the girls entered, then resumed their contemplation of food or storm. ..."We shall have some jellied consomme, sliced breast of chicken, hearts of lettuce with Roquefort dressing, nut bread with sweet butter and mocha layer cake." 
From My Friend Flicka
Nell McLaughlin pulled the cherry drop-leaf table out from the corner, opened the leaves so that it would comfortably accommodate four people and flung a red-checked tablecloth over it.       
The roomy kitchen was full of bright sunshine from the windows  which opened on the front terrace. It made squares of gold on the painted apple-green floor ... A little brown cat stood by the stove washing her face.

"Ylla" from The Martian Chronicles
They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls ... she walked through the misting pillars. A gentle rain sprang from the fluted pillar tops, cooling the scorched earth, falling gently on her.  
From adult literature:

Mr. Casaubon led the way thither. The bow-window looked down the avenue of limes; the furniture was all of a faded blue, and there were miniatures of ladies and gentlemen with powdered hair hanging in a group. A piece of tapestry over a door also showed a blue-green world with a pale stag in it. The chairs and tables were thin-legged and easy to upset. It was a room where one might fancy the ghost of a tight-laced lady revisiting the scene of her embroidery. A light bookcase contained duodecimo volumes of polite literature in calf, completing the furniture.

In The Great Gatsby: Nick's midwest contrasts to Manhattan, the enchanted metropolis:
 ... the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that ...  
At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in other poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life. 
In 1984
He turned over towards the light and lay gazing into the glass paperweight. The inexhaustibly interesting thing was not the fragment of coral but the interior of the glass itself. There was such a depth of it, and yet it was almost as transparent as air. It was as though the surface of the glass had been the arch of the sky, enclosing a tiny world with its atmosphere complete. He had the feeling that he could get inside it, and that in fact he was inside  it, along with the mahogany bed and the gateleg table, and the clock and the steel engraving and the paperweight itself. The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia’s life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal.
Several comments: Finding and writing down these quotes made me deeply happy. I felt a warmth in my core, similar to the sense of being comfortably satisfied after a good meal. These quotes give me joy and a physical sense of well-being. I note too that even the adult quotes have a childlike quality. There's a sense of child's vision in Winston's desire to get inside the coral paperweight: I am reminded in particular of the English tradition he comes out of: Alice going through the looking glass and Mary Poppins and the children stepping through a pavement drawing. Like a child, Winston allows himself to imagine what is transgressive, fanciful, and impossible in his world. By positing as child's fantasy what is ordinary life in our world: a man and a woman falling in love and setting up housekeeping together, Orwell encourages us to question the boundaries of the possible.

Likewise, the street lamps, sleigh bells and holly wreaths are clearly the idealized  landscape of Nick's childhood imagination, linked to Gatsby's childlike conviction that time can be remade, the hard contours of the world softened and molded.

And Dorothea's view of the room is that of a child, infusing the inanimate miniatures of "ladies and gentlemen" and the "blue green world" of the tapestry with life. Dorothea has not yet grown up. 

Bachelard says:
This being the case, if I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters day­ dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace. [my emphasis] Thought and experience are not the only things that sanction human values. The values that belong to daydreaming mark humanity in its depths ...

 All of these books imagine spaces that make the real world less threatening than it can be. Constructed with a deep realism (not always conveyed in the quote) they convey the possibility of safety. These populate the imagination in a way that makes it easy to reenter the real world, even if its threats are mild. 

Finally, I find it difficult to find illustrations adequate to the picture the mind constructs. A few of these books come with illustrations, but often they are unsatisfying (Garth Williams Little House illustrations are among the best.)  In the case of The Sign of the Twisted Candles, the black and white illustrations on glossy paper depict only the action-adventure aspects of this book, misrepresenting what is most deeply satisfying in this domestic saga of humane living in the household pitted against the cruel urge to pervert it. Most of the book illustrations likewise emphasize action-adventure in a way that violates the domestic quality of these books. One illustrated edition of War and Peace I looked at pictured only war scenes. I am tempted to want to learn to the paint, so I could render in full color (if one could) the quiet pictures the imagination sees. 

What books--or passages--have moved you?