Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Today I participated in a poetry reading at Ohio University Eastern.

I had been wondering what poem to read. My brother just died in December, and I had been finding solace in Wordsworth's  "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" but felt I shouldn't use it. 

What then can I recite, I wondered? I had chosen a stanza from a poem called "The Java of Pussycats" that I found on Ellen's blog, but I needed more. Several hours before the reading a poem called "What is Death?" showed up in my mailbox, sent out by Friend Susannah Rose. 

Not only was the timing of the poem's arrival and its theme perfect, the poem was written by Henry Scott Holland, the same name as a mentor who encouraged me strongly on my Bonhoeffer book.

 I read the poem, which I reprint below. 

Hat tip to Camille for the images

Not only was it perfect for the occasion, but our emeritus English professor, Tom Flynn, read "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud." Tom not only read it but said almost exactly what I would have said about it. 

I tend to be suspicious of "connect the dots" serendipities, but yet I wonder. Is this all coincidence? The uncanny timing of the poem's arrival, the poem itself, the author, Tom reading Wordsworth? 

Perhaps I construct all this. And yet. Is a construction, like a poem, real? I suppose the most important takeaway is that we never know who we will touch when we send a poem or a word out into the world. Susan Rose could not have suspected that I needed just that poem for a poetry reading just that day. As I worry about this post, I am trying to trust that maybe it too will speak. 

What is Death?   

Henry Scott Holland
Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other, 
  that we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
  which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed 
  at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
  that it always was.
Let it be spoken without affect,
  without the trace of a shadow on it. 

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolutely unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
  because I am out of sight?

I am waiting for you,
 for an interval, 
    somewhere very near,
      just around the corner.

All is well.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Daffodils, without irony

Daffodils picked near my house in a Spode vase sent from England by Jane
Every spring, in the woods near my house, sunlight comes in because the trees have no leaves yet. Daffodils blooms in those sunny patches. It's hilly in the woods, and at the bottom of the hills a stream meanders through. Every year, I pick daffodils there. This year, the daffodils, like Easter, appeared early, perhaps, in the case of the daffodils, because we had a milder winter than usual. 

I had to slow down to work my way carefully through thorns that seemed, to my fancy, to have been deliberately put on guard at the periphery of the woods to get we human creatures to adopt a far more thoughtful and deliberate pace as we enter the forest. 

On the note of slowing down, this year, I have been especially enjoying reading some of Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads and particularly an old favorite, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."  I find this poem a balm to my soul in what has been a relentlessly busy season. I simply delight in his image of the joyful daffodils:

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
And as I get older, I more and more resonate with:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude 
There's nothing like a store of happy memories:
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
I imagine Wordsworth, or perhaps Dorothy, on a sofa on a cold day, thinking about those daffodils with no photograph or painting,  just the memory, and then, feeling happy recalling them.

Daffodils in the lake District.

 Dorothy Wordsworth wrote about these same daffodils in her journal:

 I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway.
To me, this passage is as lovely as the poem. It's so direct, so immediate. I remember reading Dorothy's journals many years ago on a long flight somewhere, and being much taken with them.