November 23, 2007

Poetry Friday - Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day brought a new experience for me this year, one which inspired the continuation of my thoughts about time and personal introspection.

A Thanksgiving time of year remembrance by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

"The Harvest Moon"
It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes
And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
Of Nature have their image in the mind,
As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer’s close,
Only the empty nests are left behind,
And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.
You know that I have to get back to my dictionary obsession every once in a while, and today is the day. The etymology of thanks according to my trusty dictionary states that is derived from Old English from Old High German from the Latin word for to know. Now that is interesting. A search of to know led to thought which led to think which among its definitions is to reflect or ponder, to weigh in the mind which brings me back to my thoughts about time. As Longfellow said:
All things are symbols: The external shows
Of Nature have their image in the mind
In my book . . . I have to remember my posting on time:
There is a time for everything . .
A time to throw away, a time to tear down, and a time to weep

but conversely
there is time to keep, a time to build,
most importantly
a time to laugh!

To prevent becoming completely maudlin, a beloved memory
Five fat turkeys are we.
We slept all night in a tree.
When the cook came around,
We couldn’t be found.
That’s why we’re here you see!
This is from memory, so I am sure that it is only a paraphrase; but it was a favorite of my once upon a time kindergarten aged son and so brings about a time to laugh!

November 14, 2007

Saturday Review of Books Challenge - Book 2

The posting about time last Friday was really in reference to today‘s. Time seems to be a real problem for me. I always think that I have plenty of it! At any rate, I realize that I have drifted far away from the stated purpose of this blog - to offer my opinion about books. Most of my posts seem to be about poetry! Now, I love poems; but I am determined to get back to books!

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama
by Laura Amy Schlitz
2006 Cybils Award for Middle Grade Fiction

On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse, singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
So begins a wondrous book. I was fully expecting not to enjoy this title. I chose it as part of the reading challenge in which I am participating, but for some reason everything that I had read about it did not seem appealing. So why did I pick it? I don’t know. But I am glad I did. It covers subjects that have long fascinated me.

Eleven year old Maud Mary Flynn is an orphan housed at the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans. She is small for her age and not considered pretty - that is she doesn’t have blond curls and a sweet face. She is intelligent, rebellious, stubborn, unaccommodating, bitter and not afraid to show or state her opinions. The asylum lives up to its name - Barbary for barbarous.

Then one glorious day, against all odds, Maud is adopted! The elderly Hawthorne sisters come to the orphanage to adopt a little girl; and Hyacinth Hawthorne, after hearing Maud sing in the outhouse, chooses Maud. Maud is given wonderful clothes, wonderful food, and access to wonderful books. But, when she reaches the Hawthorne house, she learns that she is to be a hidden child. No one other than the sisters and their deaf mute servant would know of her existence. She is to remain inside the house unseen and unheard by neighbors or passers by.
'Maudy, do you remember what you said earlier today - about how you would do whatever we asked of you? . . . Do you like secrets, Maud?’ . . . Hyacinth lowered her voice mysteriously. ‘You see, Maud, Judith and I have a secret. If you were to go to school, that secret might come out. In a little while, once we are sure of you, we will tell you everything, but first we have to make sure we can trust you. Later on, we’ll ask you to help us with our work.’
Their work is spiritualism. Spiritualism is a religious movement prominent from the 1860’s through the 1920’s. It is a movement that began in the United States growing out of a discontent with established churches that did little to combat slavery or to advance the cause of women’s rights. Women were particularly drawn to spiritualism because this was one area that gave them important roles and made it permissible for them to speak authoritatively before mixed public audiences. The basic premise of spiritualism is exactly what its name implies - the belief that communication with the spirits of the dead is possible. The amazing Houdini exposed many spiritualists as frauds. The beloved creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was an ardent believer. In a pre-technological time, audiences were entranced by supposedly disembodied voices, swinging chandeliers, rocking tables, and floating ghostly figures.

As you can imagine, fraud was rampant. And among the frauds were Judith and Hyacinth Hawthorne. A third Hawthorne sister, Victoria, believed in spiritualism but refused to participate in the work of her sisters. Maud, a small child with a beautiful voice who could easily be hidden under a table and who was trained to move silently, was groomed to be their source of voices, moving objects, and ghostly figures as they posed as Spiritualists for financial gain.

Hyacinth’s target for financial security was the wealthy widow Eleanor Lambert whose daughter Caroline had drowned. Caroline died after a quarrel with her mother who was now desperate to know that her daughter could forgive her. Maud was to convince Mrs. Lambert that this was so. Of course, Caroline supposedly had been an angelic blond child; and Maud was dark haired and certainly not angelic. How she is transformed to mimic Caroline is a fascinating tale. But most fascinating is the parallel tale of the real Maud’s relationship with Eleanor Lambert and surprisingly with Caroline.

The sub title of this novel is A Melodrama which is defined by my trusty dictionary as a work characterized by extravagant theatricality and the predominance of plot and physical action over characterization. The emotional reaction of the audience is stressed. Melodramas have stock characters: the hero, the villain, the damsel in distress. And above all, they have a happy ending. The happy ending of A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is a long time coming but well worth the wait.

In My Book . . . A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama is a complex mystery, a compelling drama, and a clever morality tale - crime doesn’t pay; but good things can come out a bad situation.

Side Note: One of my favorite bloggers always comments on the covers of the books she reviews. The cover of A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is suitably mysterious - dark and brooding with the hint of a ghost whose image contains a hint concerning one of the book’s surprises. But Maud’s feet bother me. They are very strange feet!

November 9, 2007

Poetry Friday - Time

There are many axioms about time. Time flies when you’re having fun. The older you get, the faster time goes.

The older I get, I realize that what my mother always said is true - especially about time going faster, the older you get!

Kate Greenaway’s

“When You and I Grow Up”
When you and I
Grow up - Polly -
I mean that you and me,
Shall go sailing in a big ship

Right over all the sea.
We’ll wait till we are older,
For if we went to-day,
You know that we might lose ourselves,
And never find the way.
Ecclesiastes has the final word on time.
There is a time for everything.
and a season for every activity
under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to
a time to scatter stones and a time
to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to
a time to search and a time to give
a time to keep and a time to throw

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to
a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

In my book . . . Following the proverbial wisdom of Ecclesiastes will prevent the possibility
that we might lose ourselves,
And never find the way.

November 2, 2007

Poetry Friday - Poe

This week traditionally marks a time of change - at least for me, a month after the autumnal equinox , the week of All Hallow’s Eve - a perfect week for the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe has always been a favorite of mine. For one thing, my favorite genre is the mystery; and Poe is credited as one the first authors of detective/crime fiction; and Poe’s life itself was a mystery.

I love Poe’s best known poems:
The exquisite "The Raven"
the tintinabulation (word joy!) of "The Bells".

Poe believed that the purpose of a poem was it’s effect on the audience, it’s ability to elevate the soul. This is very close to the definition Emily Dickinson gave to poetry:
If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can every warm me, I know it is poetry.
From Modern American Poetry
Edited by Louis Untermeyer

Winter is in the air. Of course, the temperature here in the South doesn’t register winter; but some leaves are turning brown; and acorns are being gathered by the squirrels. In the cycle of life, winter is a time of death and sleep - perfect for Poe’s:

"The Conqueror Worm"

Lo! ‘tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years -
A mystic throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.

Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly -
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast shadowy things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Wo!

That motley drama - oh, be sure

It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased forevermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.

But see, amid the mimic rout,
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes! - it writhes! - with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And the angels sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued!

Out - out are the lights - out all!
And, over each dying form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the seraphs, all haggard and wan,
Uprising, Unveiling, Affirm
That the play is the tragedy “Man,”
Its hero the conqueror Worm.

From Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven and Other Poems
Selected and Introduced by Richard Kopley

In my book . . .
I’m cold!