Sunday, April 25, 2010

Poets - Helen Hunt Jackson

This final week of April and National Poetry month I want to write about Helen Hunt Jackson and not only how she, but also her poetry have made an impression on my life.

As most of you know, I perform as Mrs. Jackson. This woman, her work and personality have become a passion of mine. What most remember about Helen and her work are the last five years of her life and the dedication she gave to her cause of Indian rights. In the years prior to that time she made her living after the death of both her husband and two sons as a writer of poetry and essays. It is her poetry I want to share with you the reader.

A number of her earlier poems were infused with the grief she was feeling over the death of her last remaining son who passed away at the age of nine. (She had lost her first son at the age of eleven months and her husband to an accident while he was working on an underwater project for the Army during the Civil War) Her work grew from that point and to many people she was one of the premier poets of her time.

In the the book Poems by Helen Jackson, Little Brown and Co copywrite 1906, the following verse is indicative of some of her work.


Bending above the spicy woods which blaze,
Arch skies so blue they flash, and hold the sun
Immeasurably far; the waters run
Too slow, so freighted are the river-ways
With gold of elms and birches from the maze
Of forests. Chestnuts, clicking one by one,
Escape from satin burs; her fringes done,
The gentian spreads them out in sunny days,
And, like late revellers at dawn, the chance
Of one sweet, mad, last hour, all things assail,
And conquering, flush and spin; while, to enhance
The spell, by sunset door, wrapped in a veil
Of red and purple mists, the summer, pale,
Steals back alone for one more song and dance.

As you read these words the picture becomes clear in your mind. You can hear the sounds of fall and glory in the wonderful use of language. I enjoy not only reading her works to myself, but sharing, reading aloud so that others can hear the music also.

Many people cite her poem Cheyenne Mountain as one that holds the key to her thoughts of the area around Colorado Springs. This is true, but by far the one that I think describes Helen herself is her poem Last Words.

Last Words

Dear hearts, whose love has been so sweet to know,
That I am looking backward as I go,
Am lingering while I haste, and in this rain
Of tears of joy am mingling tears of pain;
Do not adorn with costly shrub, or tree,
Or flower, the little grave which shelters me.
Let the wild wind-sown seeds grow up unharmed,
And back and forth all summer, unalarmed,
Let all the tiny, busy creatures creep;
Let the sweet grass its last year's tangles keep;
And when, remembering me, you come some day
And stand there, speak no praise, but only say,
"How she loved us! 'Twas that which made her dear!"
Those are the words that I shall joy to hear.

I consider Helen a classic poet, but it does not change the depth and joy of her words for today's readers. As the above works show, the skill with which she 'painted' her thoughts is truly amazing. Yes, I am partial to this woman and her work, but I would encourage everyone to take a step back in time and see what so many of her generation knew, Helen Hunt Jackson was a woman of considerable talent that continues to inspire people today.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Poets- KL Bates

This week I am taking a trip down memory lane with Katherine Lee Bates. About eight years ago I had the privilege of performing as Katherine in an original piece called "Scandal and Scones". This was part script and mostly improvisation. In order to speak as the character it was necessary for me to study the life of Katherine Lee Bates.

We all know she wrote the poem "America the Beautiful", that is the poem not the song. The song/tune is a hymn written by a gentleman named Ward called "Materna". What I found was a poet who kept a journal and started writing poems at an early age. One of her first was called "Romance of Count Hymbo". It begins with the lines:

Count Hymbo was a gallint knight
Of honor and renown
None braver was there in the fight,
Pride of his native town.

It ended with the lines:

From his couch up started that night,
His handsome face was deathly white,
The figure vanished from his sight,
And Count Hymbo died of fright.

She signed it Katie L. Bates

An interesting piece from a young girl. Her later years saw so many varied and interesting works. A few of my favorites are:

Pigeon Post

White wing, White wing,
Lily of the air,
What word dost bring,
On whose errand fare?
Red word, Red word,
snowy plumes abhor.
I, Christ's own bird,
Do the work of war.

and the second

If You Could Come

My love, my love, if you could come once more
From your high place,
I would not question you for heavenly lore,
But, silent, take the comfort of your face.

I would not ask you if those golden spheres
In love rejoice,
If only our stained star hath sin and tears,
But fill my famished hearing with your voice.

One touch of you were worth a thousand creeds.
My wound is numb
Through toil-pressed, but all night long it bleeds
In aching dreams, and still you cannot come.

As you can see there is so much more to this poetess/writer than one poem indicates. Although 'America the Beautiful' is such an iconic work, Katherine Lee Bates other works deserve a second and third look. I am so glad to have been put into the position of learning more, it has opened up worlds and words I might never have experienced.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

April, National Poetry Month-Masters

April is National Poetry month. This month I decided to spend some time with some of the poets and poetry that had an effect on my life. In this posting I will be revisiting Edgar Lee Masters and his Spoon River Anthology.

I became acquainted with Masters in high school. His free form verse about the people in Spoon River reached a responsive cord in me. In some ways those stories were like reading about the small towns I grew up around.

The three people whose stories I responded to as a teen were:Dorcas Gustine, Mable Osborne and Lucinda Matlock. Each one reacted to life in such a unique way, and though each is very different, even time has not dimmed my love of their stories.

Dorcas: Her story began with the following line:
I was not beloved of the villagers,
But all because I spoke my mind,

and ended with:
The tongue may be an unruly member—
But silence poisons the soul.
Berate me who will—I am content.

In between with just a few lines is a woman who lived life on her own terms regardless of the consequences.

Mable: Her story is completely different, yet just as powerful
She starts:
Your red blossoms amid green leaves
Are drooping, beautiful geranium!
But you do not ask for water.
You cannot speak!

She ends:
Voiceless from chasteness of soul to ask you for love,
You who knew and saw me perish before you,
Like this geranium which someone has planted over me,
And left to die.

A woman who wanted so much, but failed to receive it.

Finally there is Lucinda Matlock, based on Masters own mother. Her final lines say it all:
At ninety—six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you—
It takes life to love Life.

I hope you have a chance to revisit some of the works that you enjoyed during your lifetime. Perhaps some of what I have shared will hit a responsive cord with you and send you on a search for those lines that spoke to you.

Happy reading until next time.