Weekend Poem to Consider: ‘Calef of Boston’ by John Greenleaf Whittier

This Weekend’s ‘Poem to Consider’ is by the ‘Fireside Poet’, John Greenleaf Whittier. I know I posted one of his poems last week, but I like him and since I just finished reading a book on The Salem Witchcraft Trials (a review will follow soon), I thought this poem was timely.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the two main actors in this drama: Cotton Mather and Robert Calef. (information from Wikipedia)

Cotton Mather had written a book titled Wonders of the Invisible World in 1693 in which he defended his role in the Salem Witchcraft Trials.

In his own book several years later, titled More Wonders of the Invisible World, Robert Calef attacked the Salem Witch Trials and criticized Cotton Mather personally for his role in those events. He wrote his book as a warning to others because he feared those events could happen again.

Although the two never debated publically, at the time both of their books created a public discussion.  In my opinion, it was a much needed public discussion about how the Witch Trials began, were they just or unjust, and how they could or should be prevented in the future.

In response to Calef’s critiques, Cotton Mather later wrote another book titled Some Few Remarks Upon A Scandalous Book, but rather than addressing his remarks academically or admitting any responsibility for what happened, he instead calls Calef a follower of Satan! You be the judge for yourself between the two men and their responses.

“Calef of Boston” by John Greenleaf Whittier

In the solemn days of old,

Two men met in Boston town,

One a tradesman frank and bold,

One a preacher of renown.

Cried the last, in bitter tone:

‘Poisoner of the wells of truth!

Satan’s hireling, thou hast sown

With his tares the heart of youth!’

Spake the simple tradesman then,

‘God be judge ‘twixt thee and me;

All thou knowed of truth hath been

Once a lie to men like thee.

‘Falsehoods which we spurn to-day

Were the truths of long ago;

Let the dead boughs fall away,

Fresher shall the living grow.

‘God is good and God is light,

In this faith I rest secure;

Evil can but serve the right,

Over all shall love endure.

‘Of your spectral puppet play

I have traced the cunning wires;

Come what will, I needs must say,

God is true, and ye are liars.’

When the thought of man is free,

Error fears its lightest tones;

So the priest cried, ‘Sadducee!’

And the people took up stones.

In the ancient burying-ground,

Side by side the twain now lie;

One with humble grassy mound,

One with marbles pale and high,

But the Lord hath blest the seed

Which that tradesman scattered then,

And the preacher’s spectral creed

Chills no more the blood of men.

Let us trust, to one is known

Perfect love which casts out fear,

While the other’s joys atone

For the wrong he suffered here.

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s the simple things in life that mean the most, like spending Thanksgiving Day with your family and those you love.  Enjoy this day, as you gather together with those you love, and create some beautiful and lasting memories!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Weekend Poem To Consider: ‘The Pumpkin’ by John Greenleaf Whittier

Thanksgiving Preparations

Well, here we are. It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving and most people are undoubtedly working on getting their dinner menus ready, or at least thinking about what special plate to bring with them for Thursday’s traditional family gathering. With the focus on family, food and Thanks, I thought that this weekend’s ‘Poem To Consider’ should be John Greenleaf Whittier’s “The Pumpkin” which encompasses all three.

Whittier was a Quaker, an abolitionist and a poet who lived from 1807-1892 in New England. He was a part of a small group of poets called the Fireside poets which also included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.  They were so named because people would read their poetry while gathered together by the fireplace. They were the popular poets of the day who wrote about everyday life, nature and politics.

Whittier witnessed a lot of change and transition in his country including the devastating effects of a civil war, the assassination of a president and finally the abolition of slavery, which he worked ardently to bring to end.

He is most famous for his poem Snowbound, but today I would like to share another one of his poems titled “The Pumpkin”.

I appreciate the imagery and descriptions of abundance in this poem.  When the author begins to speak of Thanksgiving Day, he gets to the heart of the matter: family and memories.  He asks “What calls back the past, like rich pumpkin pie?”  It is the traditional and abundant pumpkin that represents everything that matters most to a person.  Pumpkin pie, “the fruit loved of boyhood”, represents sweet memories of his childhood.  For all of us, isn’t it true that there is some dish that reminds you of your childhood and special family gatherings?

In my own family growing up, my mom always made glazed carrots for me and my dad, even though they were not her favorite. She made that just for us and it reminds me of just how much she did and gave of herself for us. I still have my parents in my life and my mom still makes glazed carrots because she knows I love them. I am so thankful for my mom and my family!

And similarly, in this poem, Whittier concludes on a high note of thankfulness. He says that “the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express…” is for sweet and long lives for those around his table. As we take time to gather around our own family tables this season, won’t we wish for the same?  It’s a wonderful, happy poem, full of imagery and emotion!

I like this poem because it’s about remembering the past with joy and fondness and being thankful in the present; it’s about appreciating our families and the people in our lives. Thanksgiving often tends to center on the meal: the turkey, the side dishes, the desserts…pies… and Whittier uses food, the pumpkin in particular, as a representation of abundance and a reminder of sweet and happy memories of family and childhood.

—————-

The Pumpkin

Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun, The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,

And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,

With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,

Like that which o’er Nineveh’s prophet once grew,

While he waited to know that his warning was true,

And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain

For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

 

On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden

Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;

And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold

Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;

Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,

On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,

Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,

And the sun of September melts down on his vines.

 

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,

From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,

When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board

The old broken links of affection restored,

When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,

And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,

What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?

What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

 

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,

When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!

When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,

Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!

When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,

Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,

Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,

In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

 

Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better

E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!

Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,

Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking, than thine!

And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,

Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,

That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,

And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,

And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky

Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!

—-

Having read thru the whole thing, what did you think?

What are your thoughts about this poem? Is there some dish that you simply must have at Thanksgiving because it speaks of family?  Tell me in the comments below.

 

The Classics Club: Women’s Classic Literature Event

Elizabeth Gaskell, Jane Austen, Zora Neale Hurson, George Eliot, Rose Wilder Lane, Louisa May Alcott, & Virginia Woolf.

Last month I signed up for the ‘Women’s Classic Literature Event’ and said that I would post my list closer to my January start date, and so without further ado here it is:

The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

My Antonia by Willa Cather

Oh Pioneers by Willa Cather

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

The yellow Wallpaper (short story) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I am so excited to be participating in this awesome event! I love the Classics and look forward to reading, sharing and discussing these books with others. I hope to learn a few new things about some old favorites and discover some unknown ‘gems’ along the way that will become ‘must reads’ for me in the future.

Since this is my first ‘Classic event’ I don’t quite have a game plan yet. In January I will review The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck, but in February, or when I finish that book, I may host a Little Women read-along.  My thoughts right now are to alternate between book reviews and read-alongs, but I will keep you posted on the reading plan for each book.

So, please join me as I begin my foray into the world of blogging about Classics with a review of The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck.

Stay tuned and continue to stop by for any updates, comments and discussions… this is going to be a fun year!

Weekend Poem To Consider: ‘After Apple Picking’ by Robert Frost

Happy Sunday Everyone!

We all think of Robert Frost as the quintessential American poet, the very expression of New England rural life. Oddly enough, he only had a handful of poems published here in the US so he went to England to try to get his poetry published there. Frost published this poem in his second book of poetry North of Boston, in 1914 when he was 39 years old. This book was published in England and was favorably reviewed by both Ezra Pound and Edward Thomas. It was this volume of poetry that brought him success and achievement and established his as a poet.

 

The Weekend poem to consider is ‘After Apple picking’ by Robert Frost. This is one of his best known early poems and one I hope you enjoy reading and considering.

 

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still.
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples; I am drowsing off.
I cannot shake the shimmer from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the water-trough,
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and reappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin
That rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking; I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall,
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised, or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

I like this poem because it tells a simple story of a person who spent all day long picking apples and is now exhausted. At the end of the day he now wants to sleep but wonders what kind of sleep it will be. I can easily read this as an allegory of life. Working all day reflects a person who has worked all their life and now wants to sleep and rest. However, Frost was not an old man when he wrote this so I wonder if he is speaking of something else. He may be referring to working hard doing something he enjoys in life and the ‘sleep’ is resting in the accomplishment. The sleep clearly refers to rest, but is it a final rest after this life or is it rest in finding success?

What do you think? Do you like this poem? Tell me in the comments below.

Reviewing ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee

I just finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and I am just amazed. This book was so good!  She drew me in immediately and her descriptions of the town’s history, the people and the pace of life really capture the essence of small town life in Maycomb, Alabama.

There is so much to this book, it’s hard to know where to begin, but essentially, this book is about a young girl growing up in a small town in Alabama during the depression and the events that unfold during a three year period that leave everyone involved forever changed.

Summary:

The story is told from the point of view of six year old Scout, Jean Louise Finch, over a period of three years. We meet her older brother, Jem; her father, Atticus; her friend, Dill and a host of other neighbors and acquaintances who make up the town and are an integral part of her life in one way or another.  Scout and Jem spend carefree summers playing games, and then one day they discover a new kid next door about the same age as Scout.  Dill has come to visit his aunt for the summer and the three kids become quick friends.  They play creative and imaginative games, often pretending to be someone else, which is a theme that will ring throughout the novel:  putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.  The kids find out that their neighbor Boo Radley hasn’t left his house in years and they become intrigued, often to the point of obsession, with finding out why he won’t leave his home and they devise methods to try and lure him out. During this time, Atticus accepts a case defending a black man, Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping a white girl, and Scout and Jem are subjected to taunts, which often lead to fights on the playground as a result, especially for Scout.  Atticus doesn’t want them fighting over this because, he tells them, it’s only going to get worse. As the story unfolds, we witness many events which allow the kids to see things from someone else’s point of view, until finally the case with Tom Robinson comes to trial, which exposes the hypocrisy and blindness of the town and forces the kids to see things from a completely different perspective, and one they do not understand.  It is witnessing this trial and dealing with its aftermath which will have a lasting effect on them.

Image result for harper lee mockingbird empathy

Themes:

Empathy is the main theme of this book, trying to see things from someone else’s point of view. There are many events in this story that allow the kids to put themselves in another person’s shoes: Miss Caroline in her first year of teaching, Mrs. Dubose’s abusive treatment of Jem, Miss Maudie’s house burning down, Boo Radley’s peculiar reclusiveness, Tom Robinson’s unfair trial and verdict, and even Helen’s treatment by many in the town after the trial.

A moment in time

I liked this book because it was a snapshot of history. While it may not be a pretty picture, it is one that we need to see. Sadly, it reflects a time when a black person’s word held no weight against a white person’s. The fact that it was clearly evident that Tom was not guilty of raping Mayella Ewell, but a guilty verdict was still reached is evidence of this bias.  During the trial, those in the gallery were even offended when Tom said that he felt bad for Mayella.  This was a reversal of social roles that upset the town’s cultural norm. In fact, the prosecutor even made sure to use that against Tom in his closing remarks. This is heartbreaking and devastating to justice and truth. Even listening to the ladies talking at the missionary tea was offensive because it was so hypocritical. They spoke of reaching the Mrunas, to lift them up and out of poverty and ignorance, all the while ignoring the poor and needy on the other side of town. How could they weep and pray for people on the other side of the world and be so blind and unconcerned with those suffering and struggling in their own community?

This book not only deals with social roles, but also gender roles of that time. Scout is constantly being criticized for not wearing skirts and Aunt Alexandra is determined to make her a ‘lady’.  Another snapshot of history is that the trial took place in 1935, when women were not allowed on juries.  There was some laughing and jeering about how long it would take for a verdict to be reached if a woman was a juror because she would be talking all the time, asking the defendant questions from the juror’s box. As if a woman would be unable to think things through or be called upon to be professional in that situation.

In some ways it is also a snapshot of a simpler time. It was a time when kids used their imaginations in play, where elders were respected and people knew their neighbors by name.  I think this book is a ‘classic’ because it still touches people and is still relevant today. I’m glad I finally read this book and I’m also glad that Harper Lee worked so hard to re-write her original draft into this amazing work that will endure for years to come.