Robert Browning composed this poem during his courtship of Elizabeth Barrett, which her father forbad. The couple eventually eloped and settled in Italy; Elizabeth was never able to reconcile with her father.
MEETING AT NIGHT
The gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low:
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!
My grandfather enjoyed baking bread when he was in his 80’s and living alone in an apartment in town. His favorite recipe was full of whole grains and turned out a hearty and heavy product. He liked to give a loaf to his two lady friends, and he chuckled as he told me several times over the years about how they loved the heels best of all, and would immediately slice off both ends to eat fresh. “You know, that is the fastest way to dry out the loaf!”
This image came to mind tonight because soon after my bread came out of the oven I did that very thing, and I think it was the first time. Maybe it is a stage of my growth, or devolution, into an irresponsible old lady. I was feeling in need of some homey comfort, and saw no reason not to indulge myself. When in this state of mind that demands, “Slow down, quiet yourself,” I also think of reading poems. And I wondered, Is there a good poem around, about bread?
After looking online a bit, I find that I don’t have patience for a bread poem. Bread is so basic and fundamental, so physical and experiential, I just want to bake it, give it, eat it. I don’t want to philosophize about it, though I do thank God for it! I did locate, however, a few laudatory one-line quotes that probably qualify as short poems. I offer this one, which also seems perfect at close of day:
“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
Since my husband’s death three years ago I’ve had three long-term housemates. Two of them have moved on, so that Susan and I are the only ones here, just two of us using the cupboards and large freezer space. This situation dovetails with my own less-burdened mind, which now is able to grasp:
Yes! The obvious thing is to clean out the larder, use up the food, and start planning and cooking interesting meals with all the bits of this and that squirreled away. Facing up to what is unusable is part of the process; the soup that got lost in the back of the freezer for too long is one of the hidden costs associated with huge life changes, and is not a cause for guilt.
Chesterton’s wisdom on creativity always helps me: Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance… economy, properly understood, is the more poetic. Thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste. It is prosaic to throw money away, because it is prosaic to throw anything away; it is negative; it is a confession of indifference, that is, it is a confession of failure.
The most prosaic thing about the house is the dustbin, and the one great objection to the new fastidious and aesthetic homestead is simply that in such a moral menage the dustbin must be bigger than the house. If a man could undertake to make use of all things in his dustbin he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare.
Another development since I returned from India is that I can’t go back to the weird eating habits I had fallen into as soon as I no longer had anyone to cook for routinely. Eating normally and very tastily for eight weeks cured me forever, I think, of my go-to frozen chopped spinach that I had been eating as the main part of every meal. Yesterday I used the last of it with a little container of likewise defrosted meaty red sauce and a (fresh) egg, to make a perfect breakfast:
These limitations I have placed on myself made me remember other things Chesterton said about art and painting and limits, and that led me on an interesting path through fields of quotes on the topic. Talk about limits and people will argue that they only exist in your mind, and must be “dropped,” if you are “to go beyond them into the impossible.” Even Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “The vistas of possibility are only limited by the shortness of life.” But he wasn’t trying to get dinner on the table in an hour.
Modern man seems especially prone to this delusion, but there are many sage exceptions, like Robert Browning: “So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!”
In matters of food and cooking, even if you had unlimited money you have limited time, and limits on whom you might find to prepare the ingredients, the choice of which is always limited to some degree, and on and on. I know you all know these things; this is my philosophical rambling you’re reading.
I am not advocating for an unhealthy fear of trying something new, but actually the opposite. As George Braque said, “It is the limitation of means that determines style, gives rise to new forms and makes creativity possible.”
And though Richard Diebenkorn was talking about painting, this word from him is empowering when considered at the beginning of any creative work: “My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful, the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles.”
Yesterday I found several very ripe bananas in the freezer, and I did not want to waste them, even if their monetary value at purchase was minimal. You can imagine what they looked like after being there for a while; I’m sure I couldn’t have found a neighbor who wanted them. Anyway, part of my “style” is to stay home. I avoid going shopping, and knocking on doors for any reason. If only I had got my hoped-for worm bins set up, I would have given them to the worms!
But various baking supplies were sitting in the refrigerator begging to be used, so I put everything together into an unusual banana bread. It started from a “paleo” recipe with almond flour, but when I substituted egg replacer for the eggs I created a Grain-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread.