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Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

April 3, 2017

Spring f972d-dsc02201

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licóur

Of which vertú engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open ye,

So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

And specially, from every shires ende

Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for to seke,

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

 

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Opening Lines of The Canterbury Tales.

A Poem for a Winter’s Day from Shakespeare

January 30, 2017

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While you are sipping your coffee this morning and looking out the window at the howling winter wind, consider for a moment this poem for a cold winter’s day.

[Blow, blow, thou winter wind]

As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII

Lord Amiens, a musician, sings before Duke Senior’s company.

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,

Thou art not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude;

Thy tooth is not so keen,

Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:

   Then, heigh-ho, the holly!

      This life is most jolly.

 

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,

That dost not bite so nigh

As benefits forgot:

Though thou the waters warp,

Thy sting is not so sharp

As friend remembered not.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly…

Blow Winter wind large_b37

 

THE PILGRIMS LAND AND BEGIN CLAIMING THEIR LAND

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It’s time to relax a bit in my grandiose, spacious study and kick back with William Bradford and his book about the Pilgrims. I tried to get a selfie with my study in the background. Ah, I wish. Who am I kidding? I just ran in to a 7-11 beside the road and grabbed some newspapers. It’s raining and the runoff water in the parking lot poured into my shoes. I’m heading home, but alas, not to this study.

Probably the single most famous chapter in William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation is the one where the Pilgrims have landed and now are beginning to make themselves at home: Book I, Chapter X: Showing How They Sought Out a Place of Habitation; and What Befell Them Thereabout.

Historical marker

This section tells of the Pilgrims’ discovery of corn, their first contact with Native Americans, and their attempt to chase some down.

After they arrived at land they decided to send out an exploring party led by Miles Standish to find a proper place for all to first settle down. The very first appearance of the indigenous inhabitants is brief. The small party flees when they first see the Pilgrims. But later, in what Bradford calls “the first encounter,” the Native Americans attack Standish and his men with arrows. No one is hurt. The Pilgrims discover several stores of corn, which they steal. Now, in fairness, they return it six months later with abundance. Nevertheless–.

Back at sea, they had another storm in which they broke their rudder, yet, as Bradford believed, by God’s mercy they survived. Finally, they landed and settled down at Plymouth Harbor on December 16, 1620.

These earlier selections from Of Plymouth Plantation help us visualize the practical and spiritual concerns of the earliest colonials. In trying to find a harbor, another “lusty seaman” on board the shallop reminds the pilot to row “or else they were all cast away.” Bradford’s account reveals the necessity for self-reliance among the first Puritan settlers; only after they reach “the lee of a small island” can they afford to give thanks to God “for His mercies in their manifold deliverances.”

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THE HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION: HOW WILLIAM BRADFORD WANTED US TO READ HIS THANKSGIVING STORY

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November 15, 2016

(Repeated from November 2015)

I live in West Texas—where we capitalize the W—and here it is November and seven weeks after the first day of fall. As is typical here, the leaves are all brown and are ignominiously just blowing off the few trees we have. No big piles of fall leaves here. No beautiful autumn colors. It is harvest time but the harvest is cotton, not corn and wheat or anything like that. Still, I love it, but it’s a loose relationship based upon an unspoken understanding that West Texas fall can do what it wants and I can do what I want.

Yeah, but what I want is some fall leaves, some frost, and a fire in the fireplace of this the study I can only dream about. Anyway, let me pull down my Classics Club edition of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, always a favorite in November, and see what’s special about this book.

Horn of Plenty dbf03e639fc949265716c65b3960905c

Here’s the traditional reading of William Bradford, the reading that has been used to help establish the view of the United States as an exceptional nation founded under special circumstances and established by God much as God established the wandering Israelites in the Promised Land.

Bradford structures his history around annual accounts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from the Mayflower voyage in 1620 until 1646. The most famous parts, obviously, are the early parts about the first encounters of the Pilgrims in the New World, the stories of the tension surrounding the development of the Mayflower Compact, the brutal first winter in a hostile land during which over half the colony perishes, and the bountiful harvest of 1621 which would have been impossible without the help of the Native American locals led by Massasoit.

From the start Bradford considers “the hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men,” while in the end he shows us a well-established community with a bright future, a community that serves as a beacon shining light into darkness. Early school pedagogues used to teach Bradford’s History as the first American epic with its theme of dogged struggle of civilization and piety against the savage continent and powers of darkness. Although self-effacing, Bradford has usually been seen as a man of profound goodness and dignity, practicality, compassion, and monumental endurance.

Thus, the traditional interpretation and certainly the intended interpretation by the author. However, this is the postmodern era, and for us today what the author of any given text intended no longer matters—at least not in the way, here, that Bradford thought.

But next time let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask.

Leave comments. Re-blog this post and talk about these things as you lead a literary life.

Paul Varner

THE HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION: HOW WILLIAM BRADFORD WANTED US TO READ HIS THANKSGIVING STORY

ed2f1c7599a9d3c396f47930d60d7dce

November 15, 2016

(Repeated from November 2015)

I live in West Texas—where we capitalize the W—and here it is November and seven weeks after the first day of fall. As is typical here, the leaves are all brown and are ignominiously just blowing off the few trees we have. No big piles of fall leaves here. No beautiful autumn colors. It is harvest time but the harvest is cotton, not corn and wheat or anything like that. Still, I love it, but it’s a loose relationship based upon an unspoken understanding that West Texas fall can do what it wants and I can do what I want.

Yeah, but what I want is some fall leaves, some frost, and a fire in the fireplace of this the study I can only dream about. Anyway, let me pull down my Classics Club edition of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, always a favorite in November, and see what’s special about this book.

Horn of Plenty dbf03e639fc949265716c65b3960905c

Here’s the traditional reading of William Bradford, the reading that has been used to help establish the view of the United States as an exceptional nation founded under special circumstances and established by God much as God established the wandering Israelites in the Promised Land.

Bradford structures his history around annual accounts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from the Mayflower voyage in 1620 until 1646. The most famous parts, obviously, are the early parts about the first encounters of the Pilgrims in the New World, the stories of the tension surrounding the development of the Mayflower Compact, the brutal first winter in a hostile land during which over half the colony perishes, and the bountiful harvest of 1621 which would have been impossible without the help of the Native American locals led by Massasoit.

From the start Bradford considers “the hideous and desolate wilderness full of wild beasts and wild men,” while in the end he shows us a well-established community with a bright future, a community that serves as a beacon shining light into darkness. Early school pedagogues used to teach Bradford’s History as the first American epic with its theme of dogged struggle of civilization and piety against the savage continent and powers of darkness. Although self-effacing, Bradford has usually been seen as a man of profound goodness and dignity, practicality, compassion, and monumental endurance.

Thus, the traditional interpretation and certainly the intended interpretation by the author. However, this is the postmodern era, and for us today what the author of any given text intended no longer matters—at least not in the way, here, that Bradford thought.

But next time let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask.

Leave comments. Re-blog this post and talk about these things as you lead a literary life.

Paul Varner

To Autumn by William Blake (1783)

Autumn e09d93fdd9d3752b6baad24d7a352c8c

It’s finally looking like Autumn where I live in Texas. Well, slightly. So let’s celebrate the beginning of autumn with this early poem of William Blake’s from his first book, Poetical Sketches.

“To Autumn” is full of gorgeous colors and a magnificent personification at the end, all portraying sexually charged nature with fertility, the daughters of the year dancing and singing lusty songs, the narrow bud opening her beauties, and personified Autumn, after ravishing modest Eve, rising and dressing, then fleeing over the bleak hills. But he leaves behind his golden load.

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

(A Literary Life classic. First posted October 7, 2015.)

For New Year’s: Thomas Hardy, The Darkling Thrush

 

Darkling Thrush il_fullxfull.403522787_jgpmThomas Hardy (1840-1928) wrote this poem at the beginning of the new century, 1900. As with most of Hardy’s works, “The Darkling Thrush” is not for the perpetual optimist.

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.

 

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.

 

At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

 

So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.
Darkling Thrush frost

William Shakespeare, “Blow, blow, thou winter wind”

Blow Winter wind large_b37

[Blow, blow, thou winter wind]

As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII

Lord Amiens, a musician, sings before Duke Senior’s company

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,

Thou art not so unkind

As man’s ingratitude;

Thy tooth is not so keen,

Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:

   Then, heigh-ho, the holly!

      This life is most jolly.

 

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,

That dost not bite so nigh

As benefits forgot:

Though thou the waters warp,

Thy sting is not so sharp

As friend remembered not.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly…

Blow Blow thou winter wind millais23

 

 

John Keats, “In Drear-Nighted December”

Dark Winter Landscape P1000697_MS465_EagleLake_131222_v1_resize.JPG

John Keats (1795-1821)

In Drear-Nighted December

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne’er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne’er remember
Apollo’s summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would ’twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

Image: Dark Winter Landscape P1000697_MS465_EagleLake_131222_v1_resize.JPG

 

For Winter Solstice: Christina Rossetti, “In the bleak midwinter”

Bleak winter tree.jpg

Today is the darkest night of the year, Winter Solstice. It seems appropriate for the Advent season that literal darkness precedeS the light brought by the glorious birth of the Christ child of Christmas. Rossetti’s poem, famously set to music, expresses this sentiment as well as it has ever been expressed.

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

In the Bleak Midwinter

 

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,

Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;

Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,

The ox and ass and camel which adore.

 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

 

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

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