In the springing of the year

Since today's a proper spring day, and I'm sitting in our garden where there's bees in the lavender and in the apple blossom, here's Robert Frost's "A prayer in Spring." It seems strange to have to ask for pleasure in a beautiful spring day, but it's true we often need reminding to take pleasure when it's offered, to find happiness in what's given, and to keep ourselves here.

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.



So many kinds of yes

So much for Spring. After a warm weekend, it's wild and cold and the rain's hardly stopped since yesterday. Despite, or to spite, the weather, here's a glorious spring poem by e e cummings. Viva sweet love indeed.

“sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love”

(all the merry little birds are
flying in the floating in the
very spirits singing in
are winging in the blossoming)

lovers go and lovers come
awandering awondering
but any two are perfectly
alone there’s nobody else alive

(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
and everybody never breathed
quite so many kinds of yes)

not a tree can count his leaves
each herself by opening
but shining who by thousands mean
only one amazing thing

(secretly adoring shyly
tiny winging darting floating
merry in the blossoming
always joyful selves are singing)

“sweet spring is your
time is my time is our
time for springtime is lovetime
and viva sweet love”


Mary, Martha, Lazarus

Since writing the last, I've felt some remorse for sounding ungrateful, and I've wondered about the other side of the story. After all, many men have missed out on their babies and children because of the model that sent them out to work, and the same men might have missed their other callings (writing, for one) because work was importunate. Whatever's to blame, we still haven't figured out how to arrange work and family equitably, but this seems to me part of a larger problem about the nature of work itself. Our industries and appetites still reflect the nineteenth century, to the detriment of family as well as community, environment, creativity, spirituality and much else that makes up human flourishing. We need to find a way to keep house and put food on our tables without sacrificing time for love and reflection. We need to value soul-making, inside and outside the home.

Meanwhile, I'm far from ungrateful. I'm enjoying the slower life, the season of keeping quietly at home, the time and space to think about these things, and to cherish them.


Motherhood statement

Olivia is four months old today. The fact that it's taken me four months to sit down to this blog is some testament to my experience of motherhood so far. As many others before me have found, it's an experience of profound rapture; of quietude, solitude, some drudgery, and ceaseless wonder. She's beautiful. Especially in sleep. Even when she's sticky or dirty or damp, she's immaculate.

At four months she is smiling, laughing, screeching and crowing, holding up her head, kicking her legs, stuffing her tiny fingers in her mouth. She cries when I leave the room. She looks with wide eyes at the pages of her picture books. She likes to chew on a rubber giraffe.

Having her challenges my idea of time. Everything has slowed right down. So how can four months already have gone by? The days are long but the years are short, goes the saying. I spend many hours a day sitting in a chair, but I feel breathlessly busy. I've found that mothering and keeping house are not the same thing; in fact they're often inimical to each other. I've had an easy baby and lots of help and I've still found it exhausting. I have new respect for anyone who does it on their own, indeed for anyone who does it. I repent of any opinion I've ever held about parenting. It's much harder than it looks. And it looks hard.

If housekeeping and mothering are antithetical to one another, how much more seem both to writing. Hence the lapse of four months before I took up this pen. In the early weeks I read novel after novel (mostly George Eliot), but barely opened my laptop. My hands were always full. You've probably read that piece of chauvinist bombast, poet laureate Robert Southey's advice to Charlotte Bronte in 1837:

Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life: & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, & when you are you will be less eager for celebrity.

Horrifying, but the second sentence (if you take out 'proper') feels true. Again, I have lots of help, and a husband who's doing at least half, but I can't help but feel resentful of the male half of creation, who've found it convenient from the beginning to consign the tasks of both parenting and keeping house to women, thus freeing themselves up enormously. And I can't help but wonder if Mary (whom I wrote about here) treasured things in her heart because her hands were too full to write them down.


How soon, my dear

We are just a few weeks now from welcoming our first child. I've grumbled a fair bit through this pregnancy but I know I have much to be grateful for. So much that women in other places, or women in earlier times, have never had. I came across this poem from the seventeenth century, “Before the birth of one of her children,” by Anne Bradstreet, which brought home to me that once, looking forward to a birth meant an equal chance of facing death.

Bradstreet was born in England in 1612; she married at 16, and at 18 she and her husband migrated to America. In Massachussetts she became one of the first writers, and the first female writer, of English verse. Though none of it was very original in style, it has a deeply personal quality that seems to make the tired conventions fresh and poignant. And there's something compelling about the sheer rarity of a woman's voice and pen in that age. I'm very moved by this poem - and comforted to know that in the end she survived not only this birth but seven others. She died at 60, America's first published poet.

All things within this fading world hath end,
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,
But with death’s parting blow are sure to meet.
The sentence past is most irrevocable,
A common thing, yet oh, inevitable.
How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,
How soon’t may be thy lot to lose thy friend,
We both are ignorant, yet love bids me
These farewell lines to recommend to thee,
That when the knot’s untied that made us one,
I may seem thine, who in effect am none.
And if I see not half my days that’s due,
What nature would, God grant to yours and you;
The many faults that well you know I have
Let be interred in my oblivious grave;
If any worth or virtue were in me,
Let that live freshly in thy memory
And when thou feel’st no grief, as I no harmes,
Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms,
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes, my dear remains.
And if thou love thyself, or loved’st me,
These O protect from stepdame’s injury.
And if chance to thine eyes shall bring this verse,
With some sad sighs honor my absent hearse;
And kiss this paper for thy dear love’s sake,
Who with salt tears this last farewell did take.