• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Poetry Friday II: Be Mine

excerpt from
Love-songs, at Once Tender and Informative —
An Unusual Combination in Verses of This Character

by Samuel Hoffenstein (1890-1947)

Maid of Gotham, ere we part,
Have a hospitable heart —

Since our own delights must end,
Introduce me to your friend.

—–

If you love me, as I love you,
We’ll both be friendly and untrue.

—–

Your little hands,
Your little feet,
Your little mouth —
Oh, God, how sweet!

Your little nose,
Your little ears,
Your eyes, that shed
Such little tears!

Your little voice,
So soft and kind;
Your little soul,
Your little mind!

—–

Had we but parted at the start,
I’d cut some figure in your heart;
And though the lands between were wide,
You’d often see me at your side.

But having loved and stayed, my dear,
I’m always everywhere but here,
And, still more paradoxical,
You always see me not at all.

from American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, compiled by John Hollander

* * *

Samuel (Sam) Hoffenstein was born in Lithuania in 1890, emigrating to the United States at the age of four with his family.  After graduating from Easton College in Pennsylvania in 1911, he found work as a staff writer for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. By 1912, he was in New York City, working for The New York Sun, where he started as a reporter and worked his way up to drama critic.  It was around this time that Sam Hoffenstein wrote and published his rather gloomy first volume of poetry, Life Sings a Song (1916) and left The Sun to work as a press agent in the city. Life was followed by his first book of light verse, Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing in 1928, and Year In, You’re Out in 1930.  The following year, Sam Hoffenstein moved to Los Angeles to work in the talkies.

In 1933, Hoffenstein helped Cole Porter and Kenneth S. Webb compose the musical score for The Gay Divorce, the stage musical (Fred Astaire’s last Broadway show) that became the film The Gay Divorcee, the first film to make the classic romantic pairing of Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  Hoffenstein and Webb would win an Academy Award for the score.

Hoffenstein wrote scripts for a variety of movies, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Fredric March (1931), for which Hoffenstein was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Adaptation, with Percy Heath; Love Me Tonight (1932); The Great Waltz (1938); The Wizard of Oz (1939), uncredited; Tales of Manhattan (1942); Phantom of the Opera with Claude Rains (1943); Laura with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews (1944), for which Hoffenstien was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay, with Jay Dratler and Elizabeth Reinhardt; and Cluny Brown (1946).

Sam Hoffenstein died of a heart attack in Los Angeles in 1947 at the age of 57, three days after his final volume of verse, Pencil in the Air, was published.  His Time Magazine obituary noted,

Died. Samuel Hoffenstein, 57, master writer of satiric light verse (Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing); of a heart attack; in Los Angeles. A wry-writing favorite of Manhattan’s wry-minded literary set in the late ’20s, Hoffenstein (who had written, I’d rather listen to a flute in Gotham, than a band in Butte) disappeared into Hollywood as a scenario writer, later explained: “In the movies we writers work our brains to the bone, and what do we get for it? A lousy fortune.”

I’ll end with some lines from some of his best known lines, from the 1928 Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing,

Poems of Passion Carefully Restrained So as to Offend Nobody: II

When you’re away, I’m restless, lonely,
Wretched, bored, dejected; only
Here’s the rub, my darling dear,
I feel the same when you are here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Darwin 200: Day 5: Poetry Friday

A twofer, featuring excerpts from an 1802 poem by Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin; his last work, the volume was published posthumously. You can find the entire work here.

The Temple of Nature:
Or, The Origin of Society:

A Poem, with Philosophical Notes

by Erasmus Darwin

Canto I
Production of Life

I. BY firm immutable immortal laws
Impress’d on Nature by the GREAT FIRST CAUSE,
Say, MUSE! how rose from elemental strife
Organic forms, and kindled into life;
How Love and Sympathy with potent charm
Warm the cold heart, the lifted hand disarm;
Allure with pleasures, and alarm with pains,
And bind Society in golden chains. …

V. “ORGANIC LIFE beneath the shoreless waves21
Was born and nurs’d in Ocean’s pearly caves;
{27} First forms minute22, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom
New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume; 300
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing.

“Thus the tall Oak, the giant of the wood,
Which bears Britannia’s thunders on the flood;
The Whale, unmeasured monster of the main,
The lordly Lion, monarch of the plain,
The Eagle soaring in the realms of air,
Whose eye undazzled drinks the solar glare,
Imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd,
Of language, reason, and reflection proud,
With brow erect who scorns this earthly sod,
And styles himself the image of his God;
Arose from rudiments of form and sense,
An embryon point, or microscopic ens!

“Now in vast shoals beneath the brineless tide,
On earth’s firm crust testaceous tribes reside;
Age after age expands the peopled plain,
The tenants perish, but their cells remain;
Whence coral walls and sparry hills ascend
From pole to pole, and round the line extend.

Read the rest here, if you have the time.

*  *  *

And something charming I came across for the younger set, thanks to The Ethical Palaentologist, from a 1980 book called Hocus Pocus Diplodocus: The Entire History of the Universe in 21 Poems by Tom Stanier:

Mister Darwin wrote a book
(The Origin of Species).
Let us look at life, he said,
In all its bits and pieces.

Find the rest of the poem here.

*  *  *

Darwin’s Ark: Poems by Philip Appleman, illustrations by Rudy Pozzatti (Indiana University Press, 2008); this is a new paperback edition (originally published in 1984) with prints by Rudy Pozzatti.  Stephen Jay Gould says of the book, “Philip Appleman has captured the elusive themes of Darwin’s worldview and translated them into items of beauty that also provoke thought.”  Prof. Appleman has also written novels, including Apes and Angels, and is the editor of the Norton critical edition of Darwin, first published in 1970 and considered by Dr. Gould to be “The best Darwin anthology on the market”.
*  *  *

Finally, the poet Ruth Padel has just published a biography about her great-great grandfather, Darwin: A Life in Poems (in the UK, Chatto & Windus, February 5, 2009; in the US and Canada, Knopf, late March or early April 2009, and the Chatto & Windus edition with the nicer cover should be available in Canada as well).

You can recent reviews at the Financial Times (“an imaginative and dynamic response to a man who changed the way we understand ourselves”) and  The Economist:

As the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth on February 12th approaches, it is good to welcome a biography which is relatively small, but in no way superficial or scanty. Ruth Padel has achieved this feat by writing her great-great-grandfather’s life in a sequence of often quite short poems. Through her verses she seeks to capture the “voice” of Darwin, thus performing a difficult act of literary ventriloquism. Ms Padel, who often writes about animals, embeds many of Darwin’s own words—from his books or his letters—in her poems, and the results tend to give the sense of being jointly authored. Sometimes she shapes entire gobbets of quotation into her own poetic passages. If this seems to be a bit of sly plagiarism, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels more like a deft act of collaboration between the living and the dead, one melding easily with the other. …

And why are poems a good way of illuminating a life such as Darwin’s? The best lyric poems—think of Keats or Shelley, for example—are moments of epiphany, a sudden opening out onto magic casements. And Darwin, throughout, was in the grip of something very similar: a terrible, destabilising sense of wonder. He sensed intimations of the marvellous everywhere he looked. All the sadder then—and this is something that Ms Padel does not explain—that, later in life, the man who carried with him on the Beagle a copy of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”* found that he could no longer enjoy poetry.

By the way, as part of American Public Media’s “Speaking of Faith” program, “Evolution and Wonder: Understanding Charles Darwin”, you can listen to a discussion of Darwin’s fondness for Milton’s poem and his description of the Atlantic Ocean.

*  *  *

Kelly Herold, who established Poetry Friday, is hosting today, so head over to her blog, Big A little a, for the complete round-up.  Thanks for hosting, Kelly, and thanks especially for Poetry Fridays.

Poetry Friday: Old Abe in the marble and the moonlight

In celebration of the upcoming bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln, a poem for a President who loved poetry,

Lincoln Monument:  Washington
by Langston Hughes

Let’s go see Old Abe
Sitting in the marble and the moonlight,
Sitting lonely in the marble and the moonlight,
Quiet for ten thousand centuries, old Abe.
Quiet for a million, million years.

And yet a voice forever
Against the
Timeless walls
Of time–
Old Abe.

*  *  *

The official Lincoln Bicentennial Commission website has an entire page of poems inspired by the 16th President

The Library of Congress has a web page on Lincoln as Poet and also on Abraham Lincoln and Poetry

And, a recent Atlantic article, “Obama’s Poetic Predecessor” (December 5, 2008) features Lincoln’s poem, “The Bear”, and notes,

When it came to turning a nimble stanza, the old railsplitter was no slouch. Shot through with salty frontier humor and earthy vernacular gusto, Lincoln’s rollicking ballad makes for lively reading from start to finish, and while the relish it takes in blood-sport carnage might be a bit pungent for modern tastes, it’s hard to fault the poem’s chops: the very least to be said about his backwoods verse-yarn is that it briskly goes about its business with nary a dull moment or false step.

*  *  *

The Poetry Friday roundup, a splendid all-day all-you-can eat affair, is hosted today by Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader.  Thanks, Elaine!

We’re busy this weekend with a curling bonspiel (rocks on ice, alllll day) Saturday and 4H Public Speaking Day on Sunday.  It will be Daniel’s first, and I know he’s looking forward to saying his piece and putting the day behind him…

Poetry Saturday: Updike and light verse, with detours through science and suburbia

I was so keen yesterday to slip Phyllis McGinley’s January admonition into the very last Poetry Friday of the month that it didn’t even occur to me to give the late John Updike his due as poet, let alone light versifier; the poet Robert Wallace once called his friend “clearly the preëminent American light-verser of our generation”.  I was reminded of the fact by Karen Edmisten and her timely post and by some offblog emails that had us chatting about his writings in The New Yorker.

Most obituaries this week mentioned that Mr. Updike’s first published work was light verse, in The New Yorker.  In his preface to Collected Poems, 1953-1993 where he admitted, “As a boy I wanted to be a cartoonist”, Mr, Updike called his writing style “cartooning with words”.  In his appreciation the other day, David Lipsky in Salon wrote, “Updike broke into print with light verse, just as the world decided that funny, rhyming poetry was something it could possibly do without.” Mr. Updike himself said in Due Considerations that “Up to 1960, I had made my living selling short stores and light verse, for which there was a significant but fickle and possibly fading market.”

Well, not the whole world.  So here are a few.  First, “Cosmic Gall”, originally published in Telephone Poems and Other Poems in 1960 and included years later as part of the illustrated presentation for the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Cosmic Gall
by John Updike

Neutrinos they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed – you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

and this one,

Insomnia the Gem of the Ocean
by John Updike

When I lay me down to sleep
My waterbed says, “Gurgle gleep,”
And when I readjustment crave
It answers me with a tidal wave
That lifts me like a bark canoe
Adrift in breakers off Peru.

Neap to my spring, ebb to my flow,
It turns my pulse to undertow,
It turns my thoughts to bubbles, it
Still undulates when I would quit;
Two bags of water, it and I
In restless sympathy here lie.

(I’m going back to bed)

For more in appreciation of light verse and the late writer, don’t miss this Guardian Books Blog post, “A Lighter Shade of Updike”, from about a year ago, by John Freeman.  A taste:

The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures, Updike’s debut volume of light verse, was published in March of 1958 and it remains in print today [I don’t think this is the case in North America but I haven’t had time to check]. Half a century on it is a scold (and an encouragement) for all those readers who peer into first books and try to prognosticate. It wriggles with a love of language, a winking sense of humor. But who would have known this clever wit would turn into a serious chronicler of post-war American life?

In the late ’50s, Updike’s ear and eye were partially tuned to England, where light verse was something of a martial art. (Although Ogden Nash held America’s end up quite well). Updike had spent a year studying at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, and he sketches his way into publication with “Duet, With Muffled Break Drums,” a tongue-in-cheek tale about the origin of England’s famous carmaker:

Where gray walks slope through shadows shaped like lace
Down to dimpleproof ponds, a precious place
Where birds of porcelain sing as one voice
Two gold and velvet notes – there Rolls met Royce.

How antique rhyming light verse seems today. But as John Hollander reminds in American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, there was a time when the “ability to read and write accentual-syllabic verse was part of what it meant to be literate.” Indeed, in Poetry and the Age, his great collection of essays, Randall Jarrell laments that the enlightened businessman of yore had put down his pen for other entertainments.

Updike, who grew up middle-class in rural Pennsylvania and attended university at Harvard, was doing more than just taking part of this tradition.

Read the rest here.  Worth noting with respect to the “martial art” of light verse in England that W.H. Auden was a champion, compiling his own anthology which is recently back in print thanks to NYRB Classics.  And it was Auden who wrote the foreword to Phyllis McGinley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades (1960).

Also in my haste yesterday, I neglected to mention writer J.D. Smith‘s letter to the editor in The New York Times last week which I was tickled to read. A prescient bit in defense of Miss McGinley in particular and light verse in general:

Ginia Bellafante’s welcome appreciation of Phyllis McGinley (“Suburban Rapture,” Dec. 28) errs only in referring to “the disappearance of light verse” in contemporary poetry. Established poets like X.J. Kennedy and R.S. Gwynn, not to mention Richard Wilbur, have written and published light verse throughout their careers, and Light, the quarterly edited by John Mella, consistently provides a forum for the best practitioners of light verse in English.

Light verse has, however, become much harder to find. With rare exceptions, The New Yorker and other general interest magazines have abandoned light verse, as have the larger publishing houses. This development is particularly baffling given that light verse is consistently well received at readings and appreciated by audiences who are not themselves poets.

Read the rest of J.D. Smith’s letter here.

I’ll give the last words to John Updike, from a 2004 interview:

What was the first thing you wrote that was published?

John Updike: I actually sold a few poems in my teens to marginal magazines. I remember one poem, “The Boy Who Makes the Blackboard Squeak,” meaning the sort of naughty boy who makes the chalk squeak deliberately. I was paid maybe $5 or $10 for it, but my hope was to get into The New Yorker magazine, which began to come into the house when I was about 11 or 12.

I wouldn’t think you could find The New Yorker very readily in Shillington.

John Updike: No. The New Yorker was not a Berks County thing. There may have been a few subscribers, but the newsstands did not carry it because I used to look for it. But my aunt, who lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, and was kind of a hip lady — she was my father’s sister — she thought that we, as a benighted provincial household, could use The New Yorker and I, in fact, did use it. I loved it. I read the cartoons, but then other things too. The whole tone of the magazine was so superior to any other slick magazine, so I was aimed at The New Yorker. My writing career really begins with the day in June of ’54 when we were staying with my wife’s parents in Vermont, and word came up that there was a letter from The New Yorker, and they had taken a poem, and then a little later that summer they took a story. So rightly or wrongly, I felt kind of launched as a writer, a real writer.

They hired you not long after that, didn’t they?

John Updike: I was in Oxford the year after college with my then wife, who had been a Radcliffe girl. At that point she was a pregnant Radcliffe girl — we had a little girl in April. About that same time, Katharine White and her more famous husband, E.B. White, came to visit us in our basement flat. Katharine White was the fiction editor and a woman of great power, one of the founding members of The New Yorker in ’25, and indeed they offered me a job. Or maybe she just told me I could see Shawn, the editor, when I got back to the States. I did, and he offered me a job, and I worked in New York for about two years.

What had you published by then? One story and one poem?

John Updike: That semester I think I placed four or five more stories with them, as well as quite a number of light verse poems. Light verse was in its twilight, but I didn’t know that so I kept scribbling the stuff and they kept running it for a while. So, I was kind of establishing myself as a dependable contributor and they were a paternalistic organization that tried to gather unto itself talented — whatever — writers. And it was funny to want to do that, because really about the only slot they had to offer was to write for “Talk of the Town,” the front section. We moved in, a little family of three into Riverside Drive, and I began to write these stories, and discovered I could do it, and had kind of a good time doing it. You went around in New York and interviewed people who attended Coliseum shows — kitchen appliances or whatever — and I was very good at making something out of almost nothing. But, I thought after two years that maybe I had gone as far as I could with “The Talk of the Town” as an art form and I felt New York was a kind of unnatural place to live. I had two children at this point, and my wife didn’t have too many friends and wasn’t, I didn’t think, very happy. Well in the ’50s one didn’t think too hard about whether or not your wife was happy, sad to say, but even I could see that, so I said, “Why don’t we quit the job for a while.” I thought they’d take me back if it didn’t work out, and I’ll try to freelance up in New England, so there is where we went. We moved to a small town in New England and I never had to go back because I was able to support myself.

Poetry Friday

I was going to skip Poetry Friday today (yet again…) because we’ve been busy, and I’ve been away from the computer, with the Farm Curl (the kids are curling with Tom and two others), a birthday party that suddenly  materialized for tomorrow, and writing 4H speeches, but then I saw that Karen Edmisten is hosting today, and I thought, pshaw, what’s one little poem?

The New York Times health column by Dr. Perri Klass earlier this week on the importance of manners learned and taught — and bad manners can be very bad for your health, especially once people figure you’re old enough to know better —  put me in mind of the following poem, from Phyllis McGinley’s Stones from a Glass House (1946).  Of course, anyone in a glass house, unless he or she writes as well as Miss McGinley, should probably be on their very best behavior…

The Velvet Hand
by Phyllis McGinley

I call that parent rash and wild
Who’d reason with a six-year child,
Believing little twigs are bent
By calm, considered argument.

In bandying words with progeny
There’s no percentage I can see,
And people who, imprudent, do so,
Will wonder how their troubles grew so.

Now underneath this tranquil roof
Where sounder theories have their proof,
Our life is sweet, our infants happy.
In quietude dwell Mom and Pappy.

We’ve sworn a stern, parental vow
That argument we won’t allow.
Brooking no juvenile excess here,
We say a simple No or Yes, here,

And then, when childish wails begin
We don’t debate.
We just give in.

* * *

I’ll second Dr. Lewin’s recommendation of Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children by Judith Martin. Please. And thank you.

Today’s Poetry Friday roundup is hosted by Karen Edmisten — head over there for a weekend’s worth of poems.  Thank you, Karen!

Poetry Friday: Lights and trees and snow

Hard to believe we’ve been back for little over a week. The kids had a full 4H weekend, the older two at a public speaking workshop on Saturday (to help prepare for the big public speaking event in February) and all three at a volleyball tournament all day Sunday. Davy, who’s one year too young for 4H, was nevertheless needed and appointed a rover to fill spots on various teams.

Last Saturday night we went to a surprise birthday party for a dear family friend; I was especially pleased with the kids, especially the boys, who knew the expectations without reminding (Daniel wore his dress shoes) and were also able to carry on reasonable conversations with complete strangers, about school work, the recent trip, and looking forward to Christmas.

Monday we had our first Christmas party, Tuesday junior curling, and Wednesday, in addition to music lessons all afternoon the kids sang, read, and recited as the entertainment for a local women’s group Christmas breakfast. Laura recited Eleanor Farjeon’s In the Week When Christmas Comes from one of our favorite Christmas books, the delightful Random House Pictureback anthology, Diane Goode’s Christmas Magic: Poems and Carols, published in 1992 and out of print but worth tracking down, especially because Diane Goode is the Diane Goode who did such a marvelous job illustrating When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant. And, at the last minute, Davy decided to read A Christmas ABC by Florence Johnson, from the also out-of-print Christmas Stories and Poems, illustrated by Lisa McCue (Troll Associates).

Yesterday we got to stay home, at least until after dinner (theater rehearsal), and since it was a fairly balmy -1C/30 F, the kids and I hung the Christmas lights. The temperature is supposed to start heading downward today, with a projected high of -30C tomorrow. So it was yesterday or never for the lights. Today I’m going to lay another layer of straw mulch over the strawberry bed. The recent snow, besides looking very Christmassy, is a welcome layer of insulation, but I think some more straw wouldn’t hurt.

*  *  *

If we had stayed in NYC for another few days, we would have been able to catch the crush that is the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. We no longer have a tree lighting in town; the powers that be decided that trees aren’t very exciting, but lighted figures of athletes (a figure skater, downhill and cross country skiiers, hockey player, etc.) were. But there’s nothing like a good tree lighting to get you in the holiday spirit.

We were there to see, just as the Macy’s Parade ended, the multitudes of tree stands sprouting like mushrooms on sidewalks. On Amsterdam and 77th Street, the enterprising young Quebecers (almost all of the tree sellers are hardy types from La Belle Province) were selling not just trees but ornaments, Santa suits, and anything else you could use for the holiday. On Broadway and 87th Street, they had the Duane Reade awning decorated with lights. And on the east side of Broadway and 98th, you can buy anything from a 12′ tree for your prewar apartment to a little Charlie Brown tree, a 5″ branchlet stuck in a sliced-off piece of trunk. They also had very cute reindeer also made from scraps. The kids, who have never thought of attaching a price to a tree, were astounded to see $85 price tags on trees we’d walk past in the woods.

A brief selection of favorites from Diane Goode’s Christmas Magic: Poems and Carols:

December
by John Updike (from A Child’s Calendar, originally illustrated by Nancy Burkert)

First snow! The flakes,
So few, so light,
Remake the world
In solid white.

All bundled up,
We feel as if
We were fat penguins,
Warm and stiff.

Downtown, the stores
Half split their sides,
And Mother brings home
Things she hides.

Old carols peal.
The dusk is dense.
There is a mood
Of sweet suspense.

The shepherds wait,
The kings, the tree —
All wait for something
Yet to be,

Some miracle.
And then it’s here,
Wrapped up in hope —
Another year!

Before Christmas
by Anne Blackwell Payne (1887-1969)

Young trees of the forest,
By scores and by dozens,
Have come to the city
Like small country cousins.

On squares and on corners
They lend to each street
A strange kind of fragrance
That’s spicy and sweet.

So give them a welcome,
Be glad we are blessed
For even a season
With such sturdy guests.

* * * *

Elaine Magliaro has today’s Poetry Friday round-up at Wild Rose Reader. Thanks, Elaine, and Merry Christmas!

Poetry Friday: A thousand whirling dreams of sun

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) wrote movingly, painfully, and honestly about blacks in America, in poetry, plays, essays, and stories. He was inspired by poets Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Claude McKay, and Carl Sandburg (“my guiding star”, Hughes called him).

In a 1947 article, “My Adventures as a Social Poet”, Langston Hughes wrote,

Poets who write mostly about love, roses and moonlight, sunsets and snow, must lead a very quiet life. Seldom, I imagine, does their poetry get them into difficulties. Beauty and lyricism are really related to another world, to ivory towers, to our head in the clouds, feet floating off the earth.

Unfortunately, having been born poor — and colored — in Missouri, I was stuck in the mud from the beginning. Try as I might to float off into the clouds, poverty and Jim Crow would grab me by the heels, and right back on earth I would land. A third floor furnished room is the nearest thing I have ever had to an ivory tower.

Some of my earliest poems were social poems in that they were about people’s problem’s — whole groups of people’s problems — rather than my own personal difficulties. Sometimes, though, certain aspects of my personal problems happened to be also common to many other people. And certainly, racially speaking, my own problems of adjustment to American life were the same as those of millions of other segregated Negroes. The moon belongs to everybody, but not this American earth of ours. That is perhaps why poems about the moon perturb no one, but poems about color and poverty do perturb many citizens. Social forces pull backwards or forwards, right or left, and social poems get caught in the pulling and hauling. …

After detailing some of his experiences and including some poetry, Hughes concluded,

So goes the life of a social poet. I am sure none of these things would ever have happened to me had I limited the subject mater of my poems to roses and moonlight. But, unfortunately, I was born poor — and colored — and almost all the prettiest roses I have see have been in rich white people’s yards — not in mine. That is why I cannot write exclusively about roses and moonlight — for sometimes in the moonlight my brothers see a fiery cross and a circle of Klansmen’s hoods. Sometimes in the moonlight a dark body swings from a lynchng tree — but for his funeral there are no roses.

From Arnold Rampersad‘s “Unwearied Blues” essay for PEN on the centennial of Hughes’ birth,

Langston Hughes loved books. During his lonely childhood, while he was living with his aged grandmother, books comforted him. “Then it was,” he confessed, “that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books, where, if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language—not in monosyllables as we did in Kansas.”

For Poetry Friday today, I offer a selection of the poems of Langston Hughes.

 

My People (1923)

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

*  *  *

Merry-Go-Round (1942)

Colored child at carnival

Where is the Jim Crow section
On this merry-go-round,
Mister, cause I want to ride?
Down South where I come from
White and colored
Can’t sit side by side.
Down South on the train
There’s a Jim Crow car.
On the bus we’re put in the back —
But there ain’t no back
To a merry-go-round!
Where’s the horse
For a kid that’s black?

* * *

Mother to Son (1922)

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

* * *

One-Way Ticket (1949)

I pick up my life
And take it with me
And I put it down in
Chicago, Detroit,
Buffalo, Scranton,
Any place that is
North and East —
And not Dixie.

I pick up my life
And take it on the train
To Los Angeles, Bakersfield,
Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake,
Any place that is
North and West —
But not South.

I am fed up
With Jim Crow laws,
People who are cruel
And afraid,
Who lynch and run,
Who are scared of me
And me of them.

I pick up my life
And take it away
On a one-way ticket —
Gone up North,
Gone out West,
Gone!

* * *

Dream Boogie (1951)

Good morning, daddy!
Ain’t you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?

Listen closely:
You’ll hear their feet
Beating out and beating out a —

You think
It’s a happy beat?

Listen to it closely:
Ain’t you heard
something underneath
like a —

What did I say?

Sure,
I’m happy!
Take it away!

Hey, pop!
Re-bop!
Mop!

Y-e-a-h!

* * *

As I Grew Older (1926)

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun —
My dream.

And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose slowly, slowly,
Dimming,
Hiding,
The light of my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky —
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.

I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.

My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

*  *  *

For more on Langston Hughes:

The Voice of Langston Hughes; CD from Smithsonian Folkways, recorded by Moses Asch, featuring works from

Langston Hughes: Voice of the Poet; Hughes reads his poetry (audiobook, with accompanying book)

The Essential Langston Hughes; more of Hughes reading his poetry, from Caedmon

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes, edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Writing (Volume 11); and at Amazon.com

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Biographies (Volume 12); and at Amazon.com

The Langston Hughes Reader

Langston Hughes by Milton Meltzer, a children’s biography by Hughes’ friend and writing partner, published the year after his death

Langston Hughes: American Poet by Alice Walker, illustrated by Catherine Deeter; children’s picture book biography

The Dream Keeper and Other Poems by Langston Hughes; his poetry collection for young people, illustrated by Brian Pinckney

A Pictorial History of African Americans (1995) by Langston Hughes and Milton Meltzer; the most recently revised edition of what was originally published as A Pictorial History of the Negro in America (1956), and then A Pictorial History of Black Americans (1973)

The Glory of Negro History (1955), Langston Hughes’ spoken word history on Folkway Records

The Story of Jazz (1954), Langston Hughes’ spoken word musical history on Folkway Records

*  *  *

There are more poems and poets at the week’s Poetry Friday round-up, which MsMac is hosting as an early Thanksgiving potluck over at Check It Out.