Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~ Chromolithographic cigar box label, Heppenheimer & Maurer, ca. 1880
Long ago and far away, in a world still accepting of rhyme and meter, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow committed the crime which made him poeta non grata to later critics: he became popular with the reading public. By the mid-twentieth century, Longfellow’s accessibility had become, as Indiana University professor Christoph Irmscher puts it, his literary equivalent to the mark of Cain.
A century after publication of his most memorable works, Longfellow not only continued to be accessible, he had become ubiquitous. By the time I graduated from high school, I’d read dozens of Longfellow poems and memorized others, either in part or in whole. Some still linger: “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls”; “Paul Revere’s Ride“; “Evangeline.”
Eastern Kingbird (Click for greater clarity)
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
~ Emily Dickinson
Around 1813, Emily Dickinson’s grandparents, Samuel Fowler Dickinson and Lucretia Gunn Dickinson, built what may have been the first brick home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Fowler Dickinson, an attorney who participated in the founding of Amherst College, soon had company in the house other than his wife. In 1830, the Dickinsons’ son Edward, also an attorney, moved with his wife and young son into the western half of the Homestead. It was there, on December 20 of the same year, that Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born. In 1833, her sister Lavinia was born: also at the Homestead. Continue reading
Woodworker and carver, sailor, musician, rememberer – Gordon Bok is an American treasure. You may know his work. Two years ago I’d not heard his name and might have missed his music forever, were it not for the graciousness of a reader.
The topic under discussion had been music, and in an emailed post-script he added, “I can’t think of a better song than Turning Towards the Morning.” Pointing me toward WAMC in Albany and their Saturday night broadcasts of the “Hudson River Sampler” he said, “I can almost guarantee you’ll hear something by Bok, if not this Saturday, then next Saturday for sure. And something by Stan Rogers as well. But you’ll also hear songs you’ve never heard before and will want to hear again.”
He was right. Since my introduction to Bok, to his fellow musicians Ed Trickett and Ann Mayo Muir and to their rich repertoire from an entirely different sea-faring culture, I’ve not stopped wanting to hear more. I’ve learned net-hauling songs and ballads of the Maine coast. I’ve marveled at Bok’s original work and delighted in his preservation of folk tales rooted in world-wide cultures. I’ve wondered at Bok’s pathway through life and been touched by his simplicity and kindness. I’ve even laughed at certain similarities between us. “I didn’t understand what my father did because he worked in an office,” Bok says, “and there was nothing that came out of it that I could feel – you couldn’t put a coat of varnish on it.” Continue reading
Never mind the traditional excesses of Thanksgiving, the horrors of Black Friday or the panic of the pre-Christmas rush. For afficionados of the sport of people-watching, the up-coming holiday season is the best season of the year. With crowds of impatient adults and captive children navigating the stormy seas of covetousness and retail madness from now until New Year’s Day, amusement should be easy to find.
In fact, I’ve already been amused. During a swing through our local Target store, I found myself waiting in the checkout line behind a child and his mother. The boy appeared to be about three, and he was fussy. Hanging on to his mother’s skirt with both hands, he circled around and around until he found a comfortable spot, sandwiched between his mother and the cart.
Peeking out from the folds of her skirt, he looked past us to the vibrant displays of candy and merchandise across the aisle. Using one hand to point to something, he tugged on her skirt with the other to gain attention. Busy sorting through her purse, his mother ignored him while the rest of us started paying attention. Continue reading