Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Interpretation of Poetry

Glory Falls | Maya Angelou

It’s Labor Day Weekend, and we have yet another timely poem from Maya Angelou. My brief comments follow. Please note that periods indicate indentations in the poem.

Glory Falls

Glory falls around us
as we sob
a dirge of
desolation on the Cross
and hatred is the ballast of
the rock
….which lies upon our necks
….and underfoot.
We have woven
….robes of silk
….and clothed our nakedness
….with tapestry.
From crawling on this
….murky planet’s floor
….we soar beyond the
….birds and
….through the clouds
….and edge our way from hate
….and blind despair and
….bring honor
….to our brothers, and to our sisters cheer.
We grow despite the
….horror that we feed
….upon our own
….tomorrow.
We grow.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 47.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

On Monday, we celebrate Labor Day. Typically a holiday to celebrate the end of summer, the beginning of the school year, and all people who count as laborers. Who, of course, have Monday off unless they’re indispensable. A day for fun, relaxation, sports, the beach, the boardwalk, hiking in the mountains, and hotdogs.

In light of this, Maya Angelou’s poem may seem out of place. Yet given our history of slavery, her poem is a grim reminder of the cost slave laborers and people of color paid and still pay today. It also suggests a connection with Jesus’ death and resurrection. This connection can generate growth away from the horror of hate and despair. It can free the soul to “soar beyond the birds and through the clouds,” despite the horror “we feed upon our own tomorrow.”

Is there room for me in this poem? For you? I don’t know the answer for you. However, I believe this poem invites me to become brave. Not just in my personal homework, but in our current political context that reeks of unfinished business.

I’m grateful for your visits, especially given all that’s going on around us these days. I pray we’ll find ways this weekend to nurture our spirits and bodies with courage and strength. Plus enjoy unexpected moments with friends, neighbors and strangers. And grow just a bit closer to the persons we were meant to be.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 September 2020
Book Cover image found at amazon.com

Sursum Corda | G. A. Studdert Kennedy

What kind of day did you have so far? Mine was productive, though not the way I thought it would be. Here’s one of my favorite Studdert Kennedy poems. It seemed appropriate, given the state of things today.

*Sursum Corda

There are cowslips in the clearing,
With God’s green and gold ablaze,
And the distant hills are nearing,
Through a sun-kissed sea of haze.

There’s a lilt of silver laughter
In the brook upon its way,
With the sunbeams stumbling after
Like the children at their play.

There’s a distant cuckoo calling
To the lark up in the sky
As his song comes falling, falling
To his nest—a happy sigh.

Sursum Corda! How the song swells
From the woods that smile and nod.
Sursum Corda! Ring the bluebells
Lift ye up your hearts to God.

From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, pp. 95-96
First published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited (London, 1927)
Published in 2017 by Pendlebury Press (Manchester, U.K., August 2017)

*Sursum Corda -“Lift up your hearts.” The opening phrase of a traditional Christian liturgy dating back to the 3rd century. Normally used before celebrating the Eucharist.

Can there be beauty in a warzone? Especially with people dying all around, often in prolonged agony.

Studdert Kennedy, also known as Woodbine Willie, wrote this poem during World War I. He served as a chaplain, witnessing and participating in the laments, loneliness, pain and deaths of British soldiers. He dealt with the horror of war by writing poetry.

Many of his poems are heartbreaking. They deal with harsh realities of early 20th century warfare on the ground, and the daily struggles of human beings separated from their families. They also include some reality talk with God. This poem, like a number of others, found something to celebrate. A reason to hope, despite the daily suffering and dying that surrounded everyone.

Even though nature can’t solve all our problems, it’s there for the taking. A gift. Just look around. Lift up the eyes of your heart! In your memory, listen to the birds and admire the bluebells. They’re sending us an invitation to look and listen to the larger picture of nature, not just to our own small worlds.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2020
Image of cowslips found at first-nature.com

I’ve been weakened by the walls I’ve built | James DePreist

DePreist’s star along Portland, Oregon’s Main Street Walk of Stars

James DePreist is on my mind again, thanks to a note from a long-time friend. DePreist was a world-renowned orchestra conductor, a survivor of polio contracted while conducting the Bangkok Symphony, and a nephew of his world-renowned Aunt Marian Anderson. He was born in Philadelphia in 1936.

DePreist died in 2013. You can read about his life in The New York Times obituary or on Wikipedia. At the time of his death, he had been conductor of the Oregon Symphony in Portland, Oregon since 1980.  He had also written two volumes of poetry in his own free style.

Of all his poems, this one has challenged me most. Not just in the past, but today. Given our current situation regarding Black Lives, and Covid-19, it resonates loudly. A timely invitation to examine walls I’ve built, and deal with questions now “breeching my barricades.”

I’ve been weakened by the walls I’ve built,
robbed
of strength-drenched testing,
protected into an unprepared defense
of self.
Failing in my futile fortress to see
contentment’s numbing trap
I
answerless
must battle the questions now breeching
my barricades.

Poem written by James DePreist
©1986 and published by University of Portland Press in This Precipice Garden, p. 6

This is where I find myself today. Answerless. Not so much for my childhood upbringing in Georgia, but for my adult years when I thought I knew better.

While it’s true we never know how much good we’ve done, it’s also true we never know how much pain or damage we’ve inflicted. And then there’s always the question about now. What now? What next? How must I change, what will it cost, and what will I gain?

Thanks, as always, for visiting and reading. I pray you’re finding ways to deal with questions now breeching your barricades.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2020
Image found at en.wickipedia.org

Faith — is the Pierless Bridge 2

Pierless Bridge - pinterest

Two months after breaking my jaw in 2016, I posted Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem. Given today’s troubles, I’m as uncertain now as I was then. How am I to live my life? My comments follow, lightly edited.

Faith – is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not –
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side –
It joins – behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.

c. 1864

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Emily describes an impossible Pierless Bridge stretching out, with no horizon in sight but the sky and water. It doesn’t seem to have visible supports or buttresses. Instead, it seems to stretch out not in front of me, but with me, step by step, as I make my pierless way across the water.

My feet vacillate, uncertain where to go. I’m far from the shore, maybe not far to go. But I don’t know how much farther, or what I’ll find when I reach the goal.

Boldness and courage seem paramount. Closing my eyes, I feel my way along. Not with my hands, but through the bare soles of my feet connecting with what must surely be a mammoth construction of steel, boulders and cement. How could there not be a pier?

I open my eyes, hoping for a glimpse of the goal, but see nothing ahead and nothing behind. Even more distressing, what’s supporting me is no larger and no more visible than one slender, fragile thread of a spider web.

Closing my eyes, I grope along, too far out to turn back. I don’t feel bold or courageous. The way is precarious. I’m full of questions  and more than a bit of doubt.

I don’t have a map or a friendly GPS system to tell me when to leave one foot behind and shift my weight onto the other foot. I just know I’m being drawn and supported by something or someone greater than myself.

Is this journey about strengthening my faith? Perhaps the point isn’t my faith, weak or bold. In fact, I can’t believe that by the time I’ve arrived at the goal, my faith will be strong.

Before my faith and before my birth there was someone or something else. I imagine the Source of my life greeting me from within the Veil to which Faith leads me. Here is the One who birthed me. The One who boldly and courageously watches for me from the other side of my human life, spinning out as needed a fragile yet steel-buttressed thread of Faith—my Creator’s Faith in me. Faith that leads me home, just as I am and yet will be.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 June 2016, reposted 29 July 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

From This River, When I Was a Child | Mary Oliver

Photo of the dock and river; taken by DAFraser in July 2010

A Mary Oliver poem for all of us. My comments follow.

From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink

But when I came back I found

that the body of the river was dying.

“Did it speak?”

Yes, it sang out the old songs, but faintly.

“What will you do?”

I will grieve of course, but that’s nothing.

“What, precisely, will you grieve for?”

For the river. For myself, my lost
joyfulness. For the children who will not
know what a river can be—a friend, a
companion, a hint of heaven.

“Isn’t this somewhat overplayed?”

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

© 2008 Mary Oliver
Poem found in Red Bird, p. 44
Published by Beacon Press

When I read this poem, I tear up. It takes me back to my childhood in the South. We lived on a branch of the Savannah River. Our smaller yet substantial river was named the Vernon River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Vernon River spoke to me multiple times. Especially when I was feeling sad, misunderstood or inundated by the noise of four daughters living in one house with two parents. Plus small pets, parakeets, and the occasional baby flying squirrels rescued from certain death when they fell or were pushed out of their nests.

We lived in rural Chatham County, at the end of a narrow country road, 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia. I had three younger sisters. Frequently I needed a companion. A hint of heaven that was there for me, night and day.

The Vernon River did all that for me. No, I didn’t drink the salt water. But I swam in it. Better than a bath on a hot, humid day! Plus miraculous skin-healing properties of salt water free for the taking. Crabs to be caught, boiled, picked and eaten. Salt-water breezes to soothe my sad, sometimes lonely soul. The soft splash of tides coming and going like clockwork. The sound of seagulls chasing shrimp boats early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

When I read Mary’s poem, I’m out on the dock again. Alone. Sitting on top of the picnic table. Feeling the goodness of earth and heaven come together in one grand moment of peace.

Am I “somewhat” overplaying what I’ve lost? Or what the children of today may never experience?

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2020
Photo of dock and river taken by DAFraser, July 2010

Everything isn’t always beautiful

This morning I’ve been thinking about Mary Oliver’s poem, Everlasting. On first reading, it may seem Mary is accepting and putting a positive spin on everything. Making things pretty.

Yes, there’s always hope for something better. Nonetheless, Mary focuses intently on what’s in front of her. Nothing is too fleeting or small to notice.

Much, if not most of her poetry captures the small details and stories of nature’s wonders. Yet she also describes the horror and ugliness of human behavior. Some of it shows up in nature as well, putting beauty at risk.

I picture her with a ‘camera’ (her ever-present writing notebook), in which she records everything she observes. The good, the beautiful, the bad, the unexpected and the ugly. She doesn’t flinch or soften the blow of reality.

Mary challenges me most when she lets her unvarnished truth go public. Truth about herself, her family, her father (A Bitterness), and small scenarios playing out in predatory behaviors in the non-human world (Small Bodies).

Beginning with me, there’s so much we humans hide, or carefully dress up to mask our neediness. Mary invites us to find ourselves in the midst of whatever we’re dealing with or see in the mirror. Sometimes it’s a real mirror. Other times, it can be the mirror of Mary’s poetry. Or the morning news. Or an unplanned trip to the doctor.

Hoping your day is thoughtful and rewarding, no matter the cost.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 July 2020
Invasive Mission Grass image found at 123RF.com

Invitation | Mary Oliver

This morning I’m tempted to rush into battle mode. So many things are going so wrong. This poem from Mary Oliver helped restart my day–though I’m still not sure what will come of it. My comments follow.

Invitation

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake  of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver; poem found on pp. 18-19 of Red Bird
Published by Beacon Press

The line from Rainer Maria Rilke is found at the end of his poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo. There, as here in Mary Oliver’s poem, we’re offered no clear interpretation of “You must change your life.”

Here’s how I’m thinking about it today:

This shared world, filled with beauty, seems intent on self-destruction. Would we throw it all away by refusing to act, just once, with beauty and courage? Do the unexpected? Change the conversation, or our knee-jerk reactions to things that annoy and offend us?

Perhaps the most courageous thing I can do today is as simple as a smile. Especially in tense or fearful situations. We say a smile is worth a thousand words. It’s what most of us are starving for every day. True, smiles won’t heal or resolve every problem. Nor are all smiles to be trusted.

Still, Mary Oliver challenges us to stop, listen and (I think) smile at these crazy beautiful goldfinches. They just can’t stop singing for sheer delight and gratitude! Trying, perhaps, to tell us something we desperately need to hear from each other?

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 July 2020
American Goldfinch songs found on YouTube

In the Evening, in the Pinewoods | Mary Oliver

Who knows the sorrows of the heart?
God, of course, and the private self.
But who else? Anyone or anything else?
Not the trees, in their windy independence.
Not the roving clouds, nor, even, the dearest of friends.

Yet maybe the thrush, who sings
by himself, at the edge of the green woods,
to each of us
out of his mortal body, his own feathered limits,
of every estrangement, exile, rejection—their
death-dealing weight.

And then, so sweetly, of every goodness also to be remembered.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver, p. 63

A few weeks ago, out walking in the evening, I heard a wood thrush. One of the most haunting, beautiful sounds on earth. It was singing in the woods behind a nearby church and graveyard.

So many deaths right now. So many regrets, angers, crushing sorrow and disbelief.

I’ll never forget the cries of a mother Canadian Goose nesting just outside my office at the seminary. A noisy raptor had been circling and screaming for too many minutes. Father Goose was sitting nearby, clearly agitated, watching the sky from time to time.

Yes, the inevitable happened. The raptor stole the baby from the nest, unmoved by the parents’ frantic, furious cries and attempts to save their newly-hatched chick.

When I arrived at the seminary early the next morning, Mama Goose was sitting immobile, holding silent vigil on grass in the back courtyard of the seminary. Her loyal partner sat nearby, watching her and waiting. It looked and felt like a mourning ritual. They were there for most of the day before they flew away.

So much sorrow and anguish right now. That’s why I need to hear a wood thrush from time to time, along with its many neighbors calling out to me: There’s more to life than meets the eye. Mourn, have faith, and carry on.

Written a few days after the loss of one of my forty-nine first cousins, and in view of my own mortality and the current situation in this world.

Thanks for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 June 2020
Video found on YouTube

The human shadow revisited

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                            Mature Dawn Redwood at Longwood Gardens

Five years ago I posted comments on George MacDonald’s sonnet for June 9. Today I rediscovered it, right on time. It helps me think about my actions during this tumultuous uprising through which we must go together, or die. My lightly edited comments from five years ago follow.

June 9

Faith is the human shadow of thy might.
Thou art the one self-perfect life, and we
Who trust thy life, therein join on to thee,
Taking our part in self-creating light.
To trust is to step forward out of the night—
To be—to share in the outgoing Will
That lives and is, because outgoing still.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul,
© 1994 Augsburg Fortress Press

What does MacDonald’s opening line mean? “Faith is the human shadow of thy might.”

I can’t help thinking about the grand trees I saw yesterday. It was a hot, humid day begging for shade and breezes. We found it beneath huge trees reaching toward the sky. Could their welcome shade be like faith? An earthly shadow of God’s creative reach?

I imagine myself stepping out of burning sun (MacDonald’s ‘night’), into the shade. Into faith that exists only because of ‘thee’ and ‘thy might.’ I didn’t create the shade. I can’t touch it. I feel it in every part of me. It calms the boiling molecules in my body. It gives me energy to move forward and outward.

Imagine this. Perhaps the Creator’s towering tree-like presence reaches out large limbs that support a leafy umbrella offering respite and relief. I’m not the tree. Yet by standing within the tree’s shadow, I join myself to its life. To my true home. Unlike the tree, I can’t see this with my eyes, yet I know it by faith. Faith that dwells within the shadows of the Creator’s presence.

This means stepping forward “out of the night” is like stepping into the shade of a majestic tree. It’s a way of sharing in the life of the tree, of gaining strength and energy found only within its life, its ‘will,’ its outgoing nature.

The Creator’s will, like the tree, is outgoing. Reaching away from itself to create and recreate all nature including human nature. To become part of the Creator’s life is to ‘join on’ by stepping forward ‘out of the night’ (or out of the burning heat).

Only then do I exist truly and share fully as a human participant in the life of this world with all its upheavals and joys. Not because of my own great ideas, but as a participant in this strangely beautiful and demanding partnership with our Creator.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 June 2015, lightly edited and reposted on 9 June 2020
Photo credit: DAFraser, 9 June 2015, Longwood Gardens

Still I Rise | Maya Angelou

A family of African American war workers in a makeshift bedroom in Little Toyko, Los Angeles in the 1940s. (Los Angeles Daily News/UCLA Archive)

“Still I Rise” is Maya Angelou’s tribute to the courage and endurance of African American women. It’s also the title of one of her books of poetry. My brief comments follow.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 30.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

Maya Angelou’s poem is worth reading out loud and slowly, using every ounce of imagination to join her. Not necessarily as a sister, but as a beginner or better yet, a follower.

I struggle over what I can and cannot do to join her in these closing days of my life. For now I’m reading poetry, watching documentaries, reading news articles and editorials, and listening online to black friends and strangers talk about what’s happening.

For centuries, racial injustice has bled into today’s mega-epidemic of prisons, soaring rates of Covid-19 deaths among African Americans, closed or understaffed medical facilities, corporate greed, random killings, modern-day enslavements, distrust, fear and weeping rage. Unaddressed, this blatant, calculated and habitual injustice also stokes our current epidemic of unleashed white supremacy.

As noted above, try reading Angelou’s poem out loud and slowly. What do you hear?

Praying for discernment, courage and peace,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 June 2020
Photo found at http://www.latimes.com

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