Happy Birthday Mr. Houseman and Mr. Frost

I am taking a blog break for Lent, but I thought I’d share some of my old posts from years gone by. I’ve been blogging at Semicolon since October, 2003, more than eleven years. This post is copied and edited from March 26, 2010.

A.E. Houseman, b.1859.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry

Robert Frost, b.1874.
The Door in the Dark
Fire and Ice
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
A Time to Talk
A Prayer in Spring

Many Happy Returns: March 24th

William Morris, b.1834.
The Defence of Guinevere by William Morris.

Quoth Mr. Morris:

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

“With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.”

“If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of Art and the thing most to be longed for; I should answer; A beautiful House; and if I were further asked to name the production next in importance and the thing next to be longed for; I should answer; A beautiful Book. To enjoy good houses and good books in self-respect and decent comfort, seems to me to be the pleasurable end towards which all societies of human beings ought now to struggle.”

“All rooms ought to look as if they were lived in, and to have so to say, a friendly welcome ready for the incomer.”

“It took me years to understand that words are often as important as experience, because words make experience last.”

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.”

Many Happy Returns: March 8th

Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, b. 1859. And isn’t it appropriate that Grahame’s birthday falls at the beginning of March? The Wind in the WIllows is definitely a spring sort of story, even though its scenes take the reader through the year from its beginning with spring-cleaning to a summer paddling boats on the river into fall and then winter in the Wild Wood.

“The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First he swept; next he dusted. Then it was up on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash. Finally he had dust in his
throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above him, reaching even into his dark little underground house. Small wonder, then, that he suddenly threw his brush down on the floor, said “Bother!” and “Oh dash it!” and also “Hang spring-cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.”

A.A. Milne on Grahame’s book:

One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and, if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly. The book is a test of character. We can’t criticize it, because it is criticizing us. But I must give you one word of warning. When you sit down to it, don’t be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in judgment on my taste, or on the art of Kenneth Grahame. You are merely sitting in judgment on yourself. You may be worthy: I don’t know, But it is you who are on trial.”

Willows links:

Inspiraculum: “I’ve just read ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame for about the fourth time.”

Ahab’s Quest: The Wind in the Willows is Charming.Willows is a sensuous experience because Grahame so deliberately takes the reader through the small, pleasant things that fill our days. Every meal is described in detail, such that one tastes the picnic along with Mole and Rat.”

Beyond the WIld Wood by Alan Jacobs: “Best of all were those winter evenings when I crawled into bed and grinned a big grin as I picked up our lovely hardcover edition of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, with illustrations by Michael Hague. Before I cracked it open I knew I would like it, but I really never expected to be transported, as, evening by evening, I was. After the first night (I read only one chapter at a stretch), I wanted the experience to last as long as I could possibly drag it out. It was with a sigh compounded of pleasure and regret and satisfaction in Toad’s successful homecoming that I closed the book. I knew I would read The Wind in the Willows many times, but I could never again read it for the first time.”

The WInd in the WIllows at 100 by Gary Kamiya (Salon magazine): “It is apples and oranges to compare Grahame and the two other masters of genre-blurring imaginative prose, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Grahame cannot rival Tolkien’s epic grandeur, nor does he possess Lewis’ double ability to create completely different imaginary worlds and weave vivid and intricate stories. But neither of those geniuses handle English the way he does. Tolkien knows only the high style, and Lewis’ solid prose never soars. Grahame is the inheritor of the stately style of Thomas Browne and the lyrical effusions of Wordsworth, with a little Dickens and P.G. Wodehouse thrown in as ballast.”

Many Happy Returns: March 7th

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, b.1806, the eldest of twelve children was a sickly child and was injured in an accident at the age of fifteen. She was a devout Christian, a learned scholar and an opponent of slavery in spite of the fact (or maybe because of it) that her family’s fortunes were founded on their plantations in Jamaica.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Perhaps this classic love poem is one of the poems on your list of Ten Favorite Classic Poems. Whether or no, send in your list to sherryDOTearlyATgmailDOTcom soon so that you can have a say in which poems are in the final list of 100 Classic Poems that I will begin counting down for Poetry Month in April.

Birthday Watch: March 26th

Nathaniel Bowditch, b.1773. We read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham last year. He’s a very interesting character, a Yankee seaman and an extraordinary mathematician and ship’s captain. Let your boys read this one, and anyone who is interested in numbers and math.

Edward Bellamy, b.1850. His very popular novel, Looking Backward, was set in the future in the year 2000, and in it Bellamy envisioned a socialist utopia. People have been trying, unsucccessfully, to make the novel come true ever since he wrote it.

A.E. Houseman, b.1859.

Robert Frost, b.1874.
The Door in the Dark
Fire and Ice
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Betty Macdonald, b.1908.
Carrie at Reading to Know reviews Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

To This Great Stage of Fools: Born March 20th

Henrik Ibsen, Norwegian playwright, b. 1828. I’ve read several Ibsen plays: A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, An Enemy of the People. He’s fond of pittting an individual against the stifling rules and expectations of society. The individual rebels but is often killed or forced back into the mold. Ibsen saw the problem clearly: individuals must violate their own moral standards or live lives of suffering and mental anguish in order to comply with the expectations of others. Sometimes the individual’s suffering is caused by his own rebellion against what is right. Sometimes society’s rules and norms are actually wrong. Either way, anyone who breaks the rules is destined to experience difficulties at the least, great hardships perhaps. What Ibsen failed to see was that such suffering can have meaning only if it is placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. If I decide to violate the unwritten (or written) code of my culture in order to fulfill my own selfish desires, my consequent suffering has no meaning or purpose. I may be an individual, but then I die. If, however, I obey the call of Christ to follow Him whether or not my society approves of my course, then my dificulties and problems have meaning and serve a greater purpose; my suffering is redeemed by a God who has suffered Himself. Suffering in the service of self is meaningless (in spite of all the existentialists say); suffering in the service of Christ is a reflection of the image of God.

Mitsumasa Anno, picture book author and illustrator, b. 1926. He was a teacher of mathematics for ten years before he began to write and illustrate children’s books. His books show both a love of mathematics and puzzles and a love of travel.
Try Anno’s USA or Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar.

I was once asked at a symposium, “Why do you draw?” I knew what they would have liked for an answer, “I draw for the children of Japan who represent our future, blah, blah, blah”. But what I actually wound up saying was, “I draw because that’s my work. I made it my work because it’s what I like to do”. Michael Ende then said, “The same goes for me. I’m just like Anno-san”, while Tasha Tudor said, “I do my work so that I can buy lots of flower bulbs”.
From a 2004 interview with Mitsumasa Anno.

I like Tasha Tudor’s answer.

Fred Rogers, b. 1928. I still say to my urchins, “Correct as usual, King Friday.” The younger ones don’t even know where the phrase comes from, but I used to watch MisterRogers’ Neighborhood with Eldest Daughter about sixteen years ago. I thought then, and I still think, that it was much better than Sesame Street or most of the other PBS children’s shows. It was slower, of course, more reminiscent of Captain Kangaroo, the TV show I remember watching as a preschooler.