I love the word
And hear its long struggle with no
Even in the bird’s throat and budging crocus.
Some winter’s night
I see it flood the faces
Of my friends, ripen their laughter
And plant early flowers in
You will understand when I say
It is for me a morning word
Though it is older than the sea
And hisses in a way
That may have given
To the serpent itself.
It is this ageless incipience
Whose influence is found
In the first and last pages of books,
In the grim skin of the affirmative battler
And in the voices of women
That constitutes the morning quality
We have all
Thought what it must be like
Never to grow old,
The dreams of our elders have mythic endurance
Though their hearts are stilled
But the only agelessness
I am always beginning to appreciate
The agony from which it is born.
Clues from here and there
Suggest such agony is hard to bear
But it is the shaping God
Of the word that we
Sometimes hear, and struggle to be.
“My dream, even now, is to walk for weeks with some friend that I love, leisurely wandering from place to place, with no route arranged and no object in view, with liberty to go on all day or to linger all day, as we choose; but the question of luggage, unknown to the simple pilgrim, is one of the rocks on which my plans have been shipwrecked, and the other is the certain censure of relatives, who, not fond of walking themselves, and having no taste for noonday naps under hedges, would be sure to paralyse my plans before they had grown to maturity by the honest horror of their cry, ‘How very unpleasant if you were to meet any one you know!’ The relative of five hundred years back would have said ‘How Holy!’”
― Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden
We have a new baby in my parish, over whom we are rejoicing, though we haven’t met him yet; he has a few weeks to go before being brought to church on the traditional 40th day after birth. It’s a good time to post this poem that I only recently discovered.
Every baby coming into the world is a unique event, and my own feelings about births I’ve been present for have also been various. The group of people who have been appointed, as it were, to participate, each in her own way, bring all their personalities and prayers, and God is always present.
I’m sure that many of my readers also retain impressions and images from standing by the bedposts (or lying in the bed), during or just after childbirth. None of the photos I might put here (the one above is from the internet) are much good by comparison with the golden moments that remain our personal possessions, even if with time they lose their crispness in the mind.
“Nothing else was ever so important.”
BEING BORN IS IMPORTANT
Being born is important. You who have stood at the bedposts and seen a mother on her high harvest day, the day of the most golden of harvest moons for her.
You who have seen the new wet child dried behind the ears, swaddled in soft fresh garments, pursing its lips and sending a groping mouth toward the nipples where white milk is ready —
You who have seen this love’s payday of wild toil and sweet agonizing —
You know being born is important. You know nothing else was ever so important to you. You understand the payday of love is so old, So involved, so traced with circles of the moon, So cunning with the secrets of the salts of the blood — It must be older than the moon, older than salt.
What I love about our women’s book group at church is how, over the course of the year, so many different women participate, and yet, each gathering is a totally different mix of women; the literary conversation is unique and fascinating in its range of genres, and even more so in the literary lives of each woman present. Those who met this week wear a variety of “hats” in their daily life, including those of mom, wife, schoolteacher, iconographer, farmer, marriage and family counselor, librarian, and screenwriter.
Our recent meeting — our first in-person meeting in over a year! — was after a non-reading break for Pascha, and it was a short get-together solely for the purpose of picking our next book. We were all supposed to bring an idea, and then we would vote. At the end of Lent when we met on Zoom, we had planned to return to the group’s original focus on women authors, and we also hoped to read something “summery” next, not in the “spiritual reading” category.
But of the six women at the table in the church hall Sunday afternoon, half weren’t aware of those parameters. The books that were suggested were:
1 – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
2 – The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
3 – The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
4 – My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
5 – Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives by Elder Thaddeus
6 – The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
Each of us told a little something about the book she was nominating, and then the informal and public voting began. Several of us lobbied for someone else’s suggestion. We had to choose a date for our discussion, also, which was harder, because for sure someone will have to miss that fun. People go on vacation.
Which book would YOU choose? Would you want to read a few, as we wanted? I came home and perused book covers to display here, and it was not easy to decide even among them. If I were a graphic artist, I would think it the loveliest thing to do book covers.
I will tell you later what books we agreed upon, if I manage to read one or both of them. In the meantime, please tell me if any of these pique your interest or reaction for any reason. And I hope your own summer reading is satisfying in the best ways.