Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Beyond Forgetting" Now Available

Just in time for National Poetry Month, Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer's Disease is now available from Kent State University Press. The anthology is edited by St. Olaf alum Holly Hughes, and includes one of my poems. For more information, read my earlier blog entry about the anthology. To order, click the picture of the book's cover in the right sidebar.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Last Page

River City Books closed its doors for the last time this afternoon at 4:00. I was there between 1:00 and 2:00 to make my final purchase: a new copy of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway to replace the battered, yellow-highlighted copy I bought as a freshman at Oberlin in 1982. Near the beginning of the novel, as Clarissa Dalloway walks through London to buy flowers for her party, she passes Hatchards Bookshop on Picadilly and looks in at a book open in the window:
What was she dreaming as she looked into Hatchards' shop window? What was she trying to recover? What image of white dawn in the country, as she read in the book spread open:

Fear no more the heat o' the sun
Nor the furious winter's rages.

This late age of the world's experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears. Tears and sorrows; courage and endurance; a perfectly upright and stoical bearing.
The book is Shakespeare's Cymbeline. The lines that Mrs. Dalloway remembers continue:
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Everything must come to an end, but if anything deserves to last a little longer than most things, it's a fine bookshop. Hatchards, where Clarissa Dalloway read those words from Shakespeare, has been selling books in London since 1797. River City Books folded today after a brief seven years. I will miss it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring Flower Show

To celebrate the cold weekend that straddles the end of Carleton's spring break and the beginning of the Northfield Public Schools' spring break, I headed up to St. Paul this morning to soak up the warmth and color of the spring flower show at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park. Here are some photographs.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Reading Journal: "The Post-Office Girl"

Stefan Zweig, The Post-Office Girl, translated by Joel Rotenberg. New York Review Books, 2008. $14.00.

When I was in Salzburg in October 2006, I was thinking, like most tourists, about Mozart. I visited his birthplace and his other residence the city, attended a concert of greatest hits at the Mozarteum, and ate Mozartkügln in the marketplace. In my brief exploratory walks through the city, I probably passed the home of Stefan Zweig, on the Kapuzinerberg, without even realizing it. Zweig, one of the great European writers of the twentieth century, is not well-known in America—although that may change with the recent publication of several of his works by New York Review Books, including his intriguing posthumous novel The Post-Office Girl. The novel is elegantly translated into English for the first time by Joel Rotenberg.

Zweig was born in Vienna in 1881 and moved to Salzburg after the First World War. In Salzburg, he was well-positioned as a collector of rare music manuscripts, and amassed a stunning collection of autographs of works by composers from Bach to Berg, a collection which now resides in the British Library. In 1934, Zweig was forced to flee to England, where he lived in Bath and London, and became a British citizen. In that same year, he published a biography of Erasmus, for whom he felt a special affinity: the humane man of culture, the moderate in an era of radicalism. To Zweig, Erasmus was "the most eloquent advocate of the humanist ideal of friendship towards the world and the spirit." Unfortunately, in Zweig's day as in Erasmus's, radicalism seemed to get the upper hand. In 1941, as the Nazis were tightening their stranglehold on Europe, Zweig and his wife emigrated to Brazil, where a year later they committed suicide.

During the 1920s and 30s, Zweig wrote masterful short stories and novellas that often explored the profound consequences of the war for Austrian life and culture. In The Post-Office Girl, the bourgeois Hoflehner family has been reduced to poverty by the war; the youngest daughter, Christine, has nothing to look forward to in life but the dull routine of her job in a rural post office. But then a wealthy aunt from America invites Christine on a holiday in Switzerland, and everything changes...

But this modern Cinderella story is so simple, yet so devastating in its abrupt changes of direction, that I hesitate to give too much away. Zweig paints a vivid picture of a world of soaring opulence and crushing poverty, in which the best impulses of humanity—toward friendship and compassion and simple happiness—are lost among the pressures of too much or too little money.

One of the most sympathetic characters in the novel is Lord Elkins, a elderly English soldier staying at the Swiss resort. He's gracious and thoughtful, and taken with Christine's youthful high spirits. He's a widower who has lost everything in the war; he represents a Europe that no longer exists.
The idealism of his youth, a belief in the moral mission of mankind and the enlightened spirit of the white race that he took from the lectures of John Stuart Mill and his followers was buried once and for all in the bloody mire of Ypres and the chalk quarry of Soissons where his son met his death... But with this girl he's regained belief, a vague devout gratitude for the mere existence of youth; in her presence he sees that one generation's painfully acquired mistrust of life is fortunately neither understood nor credited by the next, and that each wave of youth is a new beginning.
But with every Cinderella story there is the stroke of midnight, and the shattering of the illusion.

Peter and Will on the Kapuzinerberg in Salzburg, October 2006

In a pivotal scene late in the novel, Christine goes on her lunch break to meet her friend Ferdinand along the Stations of the Cross in her small Austrian village: "She hurried on anxiously, almost running up the last steps of the Stations of the Cross path. Ferdinand was sitting on a stone bench under the cross. The man of sorrows hung high in the air, arms twisted by the nails, his head with the crown of thorns, slumped sideways in tragic resignation." As I read this, I remembered walking past the Stations of the Cross on the Kapuzinerberg, up to the monastery on the hill—past the house where Stefan Zweig himself lived.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mothers, Fathers, and Dried Beans

The March/April issue of the local magazine Girlfriends opens with an essay by my friend Shannon Tassava, about "the challenge of balancing self-care with other-care," and ends with an essay by my friend Paula Granquist about her relationship with her father. Meanwhile, another writer friend, Mary Schier, has come up a winner in the annual Garden Writer's Association media awards.

Shannon writes about redeeming a birthday gift certificate for a massage and spending the entire hour of personal pampering thinking about her children. It's an experience most parents of small children can relate to. Paula, irrepressible host of "ArtZany!" on KYMN Radio, writes with characteristic lyricism and openness about her wonderful father, who was diagnosed with lung cancer while she was pregnant with twins. The image of the moon floats through her short essay. My favorite sentence: "My father shared 14 months on this earth with my children, their lives intersecting like a Venn diagram, merely a sliver of the moon."

Mary won a GWA Silver Award for the post "Dried Bean Philosophy" from last November on her My Northern Garden blog. Mary talks about harvesting black beans from her garden, and about gardening as an expression of "a desire for a more creative, hands-on, day-to-day life." She includes a passage from an essay by the late Paul Gruchow, about his mother's homespun creativity: "Scarcely a day of her life passed in which she did not create something intended to be beautiful or delectable as well as practical."

Three beautiful personal reflections on mothers, fathers, and the poetry of daily life from three talented local writers.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reading Journal: "The Enigma of Arrival"

V.S. Naipaul, The Enigma of Arrival (1987). Purchased used for $6.00 at Monkey See, Monkey Read in Northfield.

In the summer of 2007, we visited Stonehenge, then drove down to Salisbury to visit the great cathedral, which among other things is home to the world's oldest mechanical clock (1386). Time was on my mind when we visited Salisbury. We had less than a month left of our year in England, and this was our last English holiday before returning home to Minnesota. In a short drive, from Stonehenge to Salisbury, we had traversed a distance of nearly four millennia, connected by modern highways and confusing roundabouts. On the lookout, as always, for literary associations, I found in Salisbury Cathedral a bust of the late nineteenth-century nature writer Richard Jefferies, whose native haunts were the Wiltshire downs. I didn't realize at the time that, at Stonehenge, I was near the haunts of a living English writer, one who shares an affinity with Jefferies, the 2001 Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul.

Naipaul was born into an Indian family on the island of Trinidad in 1932, and at eighteen traveled to England on an Oxford scholarship. The dark-skinned child of a distant colony in the New World, raised on English culture in a British school, he came to settle in Wiltshire, near prehistoric Stonehenge, near Amesbury with its Arthurian associations. His most famous novels—A House for Mr. Biswas (1961) and A Bend in the River (1979)—are set in former colonies, but The Enigma of Arrival (1987) is something different: an extended meditation on the landscape and people around his adopted home in Wiltshire.

I love what Joan Didion has said about Naipaul: "The actual world has for Naipaul a radiance that diminishes all ideas of it." Naipaul writes of arriving in London in 1950, with a colonial schoolboy's knowledge of England through its literature: "I had come to London as to a place I knew very well. I found a city that was strange and unknown... And something else occurred in those early days, the first days of arrival. I lost a faculty that had been part of me and precious to me for many years. I lost the gift of fantasy, the dream of the future, the far-off place where I was going." The enigma of arriving in a well-known place and finding it strange, of having to discover it again—not the idea of it, but the actuality.

The power of The Enigma of Arrival lies in Naipaul's minute observation of the life around him, and in the slow and patient accumulation of detail. The book is artfully repetitive, like a time-lapse film in which many details remain the same, but others change gradually or with dramatic suddenness. Change is the overarching theme of the book, change and perception and memory. The idea of flux has insulated him from grief: he has watched the land and the life around him slowly change from what it was when he first arrived, and he realizes that those changes have been going on since the beginning of time. But even this idea changes.
I had lived with the idea of change, had seen it as a constant, had seen a world in flux, had seen human life as a series of cycles that sometimes ran together. But philosophy failed me now. Land is not land alone, something that simply is itself. Land partakes of what we breathe into it, is touched by our moods and memories.
As I read Naipaul's book, I thought of the first two chapter titles of Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native. The first, a description of Edgon Heath, is titled: "A Face on Which Time Makes but Little Impression." The second: "Humanity Appears Upon the Scene, Hand in Hand with Trouble." The presence of humans does change the landscape: the essence of humanity is change, decay, and mortality. We have our little runs, we leave our little traces behind.

Naipaul observes the people around him and their little runs through the landscape: Pitton the gardener coming through the same gate at the same time each day, Jack's father wrapping plastic bags around the barbed wire fences so that he can lift the wire and pass through—the tattered plastic remaining, marking the man's little run long after his death. Naipaul has his own run, his own little daily walk: he is a consummate observer, but he also becomes one of the figures in the landscape, open to the possibility of grief at its changes.

Opening a volume of essays by Richard Jefferies (purchased at an old half-timbered second-hand book shop in Warwick), I found this passage:
A friend said, "Why do you go the same road every day? Why not have a change and walk somewhere else sometimes? Why keep on up and down the same place?" I could not answer; till then it had not occurred to me that I did always go one way; as for the reason of it I could not tell; I continued in my old mind while the summers went away. Not till years afterwards was I able to see why I went the same round and did not care for change. I do not want change: I want the same old and loved things, the same wild-flowers, the same trees and soft ash-green; the turtle-doves, the blackbirds, the coloured yellowhammer sing, sing, singing so long as there is light to cast a shadow on the dial, for such is the measure of his song, and I want them in the same place... [A]ll the living staircase of the spring, step by step, upwards to the great gallery of summer—let me watch the same succession year by year.
Jefferies and Naipaul both watch for and love the steady succession of the seasons of the country year, but both recognize that change must come, and with it grief:
A little feather droops downward to the ground—a swallow's feather fuller of miracle than the Pentateuch—how shall that feather be placed again in the breast where it grew? Nothing twice. Time changes the places that knew us, and if we go back in after years, still even then it is not the old spot; the gate swings differently, new thatch has been put on the old gables, the road has been widened, and the sward the driven sheep lingered on is gone. Who dares to think then? For faces fade as flowers, and there is no consolation. So now I am sure I was right in always walking the same way by the starry flowers striving upwards on a slender ancestry of stem; I would follow the old road to-day if I could.
This was Richard Jefferies, born and raised on a Wiltshire farm, but it could be V.S. Naipaul, walking the paths of a similar farm a century later. So much has changed, and so much has remained the same.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Best of the Net 2008

My poem "Jane Austen's Toes," originally published in the online journal Apple Valley Review, was chosen by poet Dorianne Laux for inclusion in the 2008 Best of the Net Anthology.

The Best of the Net "works to promote the diverse and growing collection of voices that are choosing to publish their work online, a venue that still sees little respect from such yearly anthologies as the Pushcart and 'Best American' series." The publishers hope the Best of the Net will "help to bring more respect to an innovative and continually expanding medium."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"The Talk of the Town"

While I was living in England, my red ("ginger") beard was a source of predictable amusement to the more puerile inhabitants of the kingdom. Teenagers especially liked to point and laughingly call out "ginger!" Or, sometimes, "ginger pubes!"

I was reminded of this last night as I watched George Stevens' superb 1942 comedy, The Talk of the Town." The film stars Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, and Ronald Colman. Grant plays Leopold Dilg, who for years has been speaking out about poor conditions at the local woolen mill. When someone torches the mill, causing the death of the foreman, Dilg is immediately suspected and sent to jail. In the opening minutes of the film, he escapes from jail and hides out in the attic of a cottage owned by local school teacher Nora Shelley (Arthur), which she is preparing for a new tenant, law professor Michael Lightcap (Colman). Romantic screwball comedy ensues, as Nora attempts to keep Dilg hidden, and eventually attempts to enlist Professor Lightcap in clearing his name.

One of the running jokes in the film is Professor Lightcap's beard, which is a rarity in the New England town of Lochester in 1942. Lightcap explains that he grew the beard because, as a fresh-faced young law professor, he needed something to lend him maturity and dignitas. But as Nora and the Professor are strolling through Lochester, the beard provokes amusement. A passing schoolgirl, arm-in-arm with a friend, points at Lightcap and calls out, "Beaver!"

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "beaver" was an early twentieth-century slang term for a bearded man (first attested in the dictionary in 1910). In the 1920s, when beards were briefly fashionable, it became a game to spot bearded men and call out "beaver!" The OED cites this passage in The New Statesman from 1922: "This amazing game of Beaver ... is played ... by two persons, and the points are scored as in tennis. Whichever of the two first cries ‘Beaver!’ as a beard heaves into sight, scores."

A few years later, according to the OED, the term "beaver" was first attested as a slang term for female genitalia. This was in a book titled Immortalia: An Anthology of American Ballads, Sailors' Songs, Cowboy Songs, College Songs, Parodies, Limericks, and Other Humorous Verses and Doggerel, published in 1927. The limerick in question (cited in part by the OED) is as follows:
There was a young lady named Eva
Who filled up the bath to receive her.
She took off her clothes
From her head to her toes,
And a voice at the keyhole yelled, "Beaver!"
By the time Talk of the Town came out in 1942, "beaver" was clearly established as a slang term for female genitalia, and on the wane as a term for a bearded man ("The cry ‘Beaver!’ is a thing of the past," wrote children's folklorists Iona and Peter Opie in 1959).

In the film, Lightcap is portrayed as effete and removed from the hurly-burly of actual experience. In one scene, he's shown having a manicure, and the manicurist tells him he has beautiful hands. Dilg (passing himself off as Joseph, the gardener) spends much of the film trying to get Lightcap to make the connection between his abstract ideas about the law and its real-life application. In the course of this, an interesting romantic triangle develops between Dilg, Lightcap, and Miss Shelley—in which Miss Shelley often seems to be the odd woman out. There's more of a spark between Grant and Colman than there is between either man and Jean Arthur.

In an interesting bit of cross-gender comedy early in the film, Miss Shelley arranges to spend the night at the cottage, ostensibly because she had a fight with her mother, but really to keep an eye on Dilg, who's hiding in the attic. She borrows a pair of silk pajamas from Professor Lightcap, and in her room she preens in front of the mirror, pulling her long hair over her upper lip to simulate facial hair and talking in a plummy voice in imitation of the professor. Miss Shelley becomes a kind of surrogate, a stand-in meant to absorb the attraction between the two men.

Indeed, others have noted the "homosexual subtext" in the film. One could trace, for example, the phallic and homoerotic imagery: Dilg with his overlarge baseball bat early in the film; Dilg unwrapping a stout mason jar of borscht; the affectionate exchanges between the two men each time one of them is about to punch the other in the face. (Eggs—sunny-side up or as a special ingredient in borscht—are also an interesting symbol in the film.) But what interests me is the pivotal scene in which Lightcap shaves off his beard, as his black manservant Tilney stands by and sheds a tear. Shaving is Lightcap's way of announcing his manhood, of stepping out of his feminized sphere of legal abstraction and engaging with the real world.

Freshly-shaven Professor Lightcap goes out on a date with Regina Bush, the lover of Clyde Bracken, the foreman allegedly killed in the mill fire. But the purpose of the "date" is to extract information about the whereabouts of Bracken, whom Lightcap suspects is still alive. Lightcap is using the woman to get to a man: just as Miss Shelley seems to be a kind of go-between for the attraction between Lightcap and Dilg.

Talk of the Town is a great film, beautifully crafted and acted, and endlessly fascinating. I've watched four or five times, and each time I've laughed out loud and noticed something new. It's interesting that, shortly after making this film about confronting the real-world consequences of one's ideals, director George Stevens joined the Army Signal Corps, and on D-Day shot the only color footage of the Normandy invasion.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reading Journal: "Battle Cry of Freedom"

James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford University Press 1988.

In What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, Daniel Walker Howe traces the developments in transportation, communication, and industrialization that in the first half of the nineteenth century began a profound transformation of American life. As James McPherson notes, the North was greatest beneficiary of most of those changes. The South remained primarily rural and agricultural, and preserved the settled and hierarchical social structure of an earlier era. "Until 1861," McPherson writes at the end of his magnificent volume, "it was the North that was out of the mainstream, not the South." The movements that Howe traces in his volume of the Oxford History of the United States reach a startling and bloody climax in the Civil War, which McPherson sees as not only a victory of abolitionism and free labor against slavery, but a victory of a Northern vision of a modern centralized industrial nation against the conservative agricultural society of the Old South.

McPherson is a meticulous historian and a compelling storyteller, but he has compelling material to work with. The personalities are larger than life: Abraham Lincoln, Grant and Sherman, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The events are almost incomprehensible: more than 600,000 Americans killed in battle on American soil in roughly four years. Moving back and forth between the military and political arenas, McPherson paces his narrative beautifully, and draws on an impressive array of historical sources, from diaries and memoirs to contemporary newspapers and public records to modern historical analysis. That he fits the entire Civil War era into 682 pages, without appearing to sacrifice historical breadth or depth, is astonishing. This has to be the best one-volume history of the Civil War available.

I have now read three volumes of the Oxford History of the United States—Robert Middlekauff's The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789, Daniel Walker Howe's volume, and McPherson's volume—for a total of 2,404 pages. Both Howe's and McPherson's volumes were recipients of a Pulitzer Prize. I'm looking forward to the next volume in the series, Gordon Wood's Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, which will fill in the gap between Middlekauff and Howe. Wood's volume is expected later this year.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Publication News: Two Forthcoming Anthologies

First of all, my heartfelt congratulations to Shan, who has taken another big step in her career as a writer. Her essay "The Mommy Wars Killed Our Friendship: Letter to a Former Friend" has been accepted for publication in an anthology tentatively titled Girl Talk: 25 Open Letters to Our Female Friends, due in October from Seal Press. Shannon blogs about it here.

Meanwhile, one of my poems is included in a new anthology now available for pre-order from Kent State University Press ($29.95). The anthology, edited by St. Olaf alum Holly Hughes, is titled Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer's Disease. My poem, "Fudgesicle," is about the aphasia—the inability to remember words and the loss of speech—that my father suffered as part of a degenerative disease called progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). The symptoms of PSP, such as aphasia, are often confused with those of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's diseases. My father died of the disease in 2005.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Last Saturday of Winter Term

This morning I was up at 6:15 to start making two dozen bagels for my Latin students, whom I had invited for brunch at 10:00. I also bought a dozen enormous, buttery croissants at the Quality Bakery, and Nutella, and jam, and fruit, and lox and cream cheese for the bagels. (The lox, from Just Food Coop, was made from sustainably harvested salmon.) Of my class of twelve students, only seven showed up, and they were gone by 11:15, leaving many leftover croissants and bagels. (The boys later descended on the croissants and Nutella and finished them off.)

Full of bagels and lox, I took a brief nap, then strolled downtown. On Bridge Square, a group of students from Prairie Creek Community School were holding a rally to encourage people to support downtown businesses through these economic hard times. One of the downtown businesses sunk by the recession is River City Books, which is in the midst of its going out of business sale. I stopped in and found five copies of my poetry chapbook in the shelf. Now's a good time to pick up a copy. All books are 35% off.

From the bookstore, I walked along Hwy 19 to the entrance of the Lower Arboretum. The path I skied on Tuesday is now a sheet of dirty, boot-marked ice. Unable to go far on the ice, I sat for a while on a large rock beside the river and watched large chunks of ice floating downriver, and a bald eagle flying low overhead.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reading Journal: "School for Love"

Olivia Manning, School for Love. New York Review Books 2009. Originally published 1951.

The Library of Congress subject information for School of Love lists "Jewish-Arab relations" and "Jerusalem—Ethnic relations" among the novel's subjects. It's true that Olivia Manning's novel is set in Jerusalem in 1945, at the end of the second World War. The city is full of refugees from Eastern Europe and English civil servants evacuated from various parts of the Middle East. But while the war in Europe is still undecided, the ethnic conflict in Palestine remains on hold. In Manning's novel, young Arabs and Jews frequent Jerusalem cafés together, discussing Freud and Kafka, and looking uneasily toward a future that threatens to pull them apart.

As one Arab says in the novel: "Myself, an Arab, my friend, A Jew; and so the others, Jews and Arabs, mixing in intellectual amity. Were all to act in such a way, the problems of Palestine would be solved." Turning to the narrow religious prejudices of Jews and Arabs, he says, "Such is not enough in a world of this size where there are paintings, so many literatures, the telephone, Professor Einstein, the radio, the films and Salvador Dali."

But the real conflict in the novel is created by Miss Bohun, the keeper of a boarding house near Herod's gate. Miss Bohun is a monster: miserly, hypocritical, manipulative, passive-aggressive, and peculiarly fanatical. She's a member of a religious group, the Ever-Readies, who look forward to Armageddon. She keeps the best bedroom in her house empty and ready for the Second Coming, but makes life a hell for her actual boarders, including Felix, an orphaned nephew who comes to stay with her after his mother's death. She overcharges for rent, she skimps on meals, she takes advantage of everyone who crosses her path, and yet she constantly complains that everyone imposes upon her generosity.

This often means reshuffling her tenants, trying to push out those who no longer serve her purposes. In this sense, the novel almost feels like an allegory of the larger ethnic situation in Jerusalem. Miss Bohun's house is Palestine. Her tenants—one is named Mr. Jewel—are the various ethnic groups living together uneasily in a contested territory. Miss Bohun, the colonial power, causes injuries and stirs up resentments as she tries to arrange and rearrange things to her advantage.

But at the heart of the novel is Felix. Felix (Latin for "fortunate") is innocent and gentle, and until his mother's death has lived a sheltered life. He has loved and been loved, and has been taught by his mother to believe that people are fundamentally good. He tries hard to believe in Miss Bohun's goodness and kindness and generosity, but the novel traces his growing disillusionment with Miss Bohun and with people in general. Felix is a sensitive and sympathetic character. The tension in the novel comes from the painful contrast between Felix's naïveté and openness and Miss Bohun's manipulativeness and smiling meanness.

Perhaps Miss Bohun has never been loved, and so has become unloving and unlovable. Felix needs to love and be loved, but in Miss Bohun's house the Siamese cat Faro is the only creature who gives him affection, the only creature he can truly and unreservedly love. He learns that love between human beings is much more complicated and elusive.

The title of the novel comes from a poem quoted to Felix by Mrs. Ellis, another of Miss Bohun's disaffected tenants:
And we are put on earth a little space
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
Felix doesn't know the poem, and Mrs. Ellis refuses to recite it in full. It's William Blake's "The Little Black Boy" from Songs of Innocence, a poem about how the earthly differences between the black colonial and the white English boy will disappear when both stand together before God. Here's the complete poem:
My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but oh! my soul is white.
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black as if bereaved of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And pointing to the east began to say:

"Look on the rising sun, —there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away;
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space
That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

For when our souls have learned the heat to bear
The cloud will vanish, we shall hear his voice
Saying: 'Come out from the grove, my love and care,
And round my golden tent like lambs rejoice!' "

Thus did my mother say, and kissed me;
And thus I say to little English boy:
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,

I'll shade him from the heat till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our father's knee;
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.
Mrs. Ellis entirely elides the poem's concern with racial and ethnic differences, and with religion, and extracts what seems to be the central point: that life is a school for love. Manning, too, deemphasizes the obvious religious and ethnic conflicts in Palestine, and focuses on the fundamental difficulty of love.

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .