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Poems I’ve Loved in Life – “The World is Mine”

BLOG #13, SERIES #7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE #20
“The World is Mine”
March 30, 2016

This morning, I’m searching for joy. And does our nation ever need it!

The blog I wrote for today, I’m discarding. Reason being: it failed to bring joy. Finally, I found what I was searching for in my mother’s scrapbooks. Whenever we three children were out of sorts, grumpy, quarrelsome, or just plain tough to live with, chances were, Mother would launch into a poem we knew and loved. Once she’d recited the poem’s last line, we had nary a complaint left. Neither Mother nor I have ever been able to find out who wrote it.

Today upon a bus, I saw a lovely maid with golden hair;
I envied her—she seemed so gay—and I wished I were as fair.
When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle;
She had one foot and wore a crutch, but as she passed, a smile.
O God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two feet—the world is mine!

And then I stopped to buy some sweets.
The lad who sold them had such charm.
I talked with him—he said to me,
“It’s nice to talk with you.
You see,” he said, I’m blind.”
O God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two eyes—the world is mine!

Then walking down the street, I saw a child with eyes of blue.
He stood and watched the others play;
It seemed he knew not what to do.
I stopped a moment, then I said,
“Why don’t you join the others, dear?”
He looked without a word, and then
I knew, he could not hear.
O God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two ears—the world is mine!

With feet to take me where I’d go,
With eyes to see the sunset’s glow;
With ears to hear what I would know,
O God, forgive me when I whine;
I’m blessed, indeed! The world is mine!

—Published in “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,
Tears of Joy for Mothers (W. Publishing/Thomas Nelson, 2006).

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'"THE HIGHWAYMAN"

BLOG #24, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE

ALFRED NOYES’ “THE HIGHWAYMAN”
June 24, 2015

Wisdom, in whatever form it’s packaged, has always fascinated me. The most condensed form of wisdom is a quotation, which we discussed last week. Second only to quotations are poetry, in terms of the words required to compress wisdom into so few lines. Next would come essays and short stories.

As those of you know who own my book, Tears of Joy for Mothers, my introduction was titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” a dual heirloom which I was lucky enough to inherit. My mother was a professional elocutionist, a stage performer whose control of audiences—be it for short stories, readings, or poetry—was absolute. I grew up listening to the rhythm of her voice. She bequeathed to me two great gifts: an enduring love for short stories, and an equally enduring love for poetry.

In earlier times, the reciting of poetry was a staple in schools, civic functions, and churches everywhere. Today, poetry has been all but snuffed out by a vacuous media. Ted Koppel put it best in these two lines:

“Almost everything said in public today is recorded;
Almost nothing said in public today is worth remembering.”

So little of enduring value in today’s televised yada-yada.

In my classes, I found boys and young men to be the most resistant to poetry. That is, until I showed them how brutally honest and searing great poetry can be. Result: many went on to put together scrapbooks composed of their favorite poems.

Though I don’t currently have a Dr. Joe’s Poem of the Month Club, I have blogged quite a few of my favorite poems. Here they are so far:

1. “Love Comes Not the Same” – Joe Wheeler – (Feb. 10, 2010)
2. “The Child Is Father of the Man” – William Wordsworth – (March 31, 2010)
3. “The Other Side of Pomp and Circumstance” – Joe Wheeler – (May 12, 2010)
4. “The Clock of Life” – Author Unknown – (May 19, 2010)
5. “Outwitted” – Edwin Markham – July 28, 2010)
6. “Days” – Emerson – (March 16, 2011)
7. “October Song” – Joe Wheeler – (Oct. 5, 2011)
8. “Enoch Arden” – Tennyson – (May 2, 2012)
9. “Ulysses” – “Tennyson – (May 9, 2012)
10. “The Mill” – Edwin Arlington Robinson – (Aug. 1, 2012)
11. “A Song of Living” – Author Unknown – (May 15, 2013)
12. “First Settler’s Story” – Will Carleton – (June 24, 2013)
13. “Where Does Morning Come From?” – Emily Dickinson – (March 19, 2014)
14. “And I Learned About Women from Her?” – Kipling – Oct. 8, 2014)
15. “I Am” – Helen Mallicoat – (Dec. 31, 2014)
16. “Wisdom” – Edgar Guest – (March 4, 2015)
17. “It Couldn’t Be Done” – Edgar Guest – (April 22, 2015)

So . . . , I have a question to ask of you: Would you like me to make a regular thingn of poems I’ve loved in life? Are you one of those who’d like to collect them if I did? If you are, please respond right away!

Meanwhile, over the next several weeks, I’m going to share a couple more of my favorites with you.

You can contact me at: mountainauthor@gmail.com. Or message me on Facebook.

Stay tuned.

 

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POEMS I HAVE LOVED IN LIFE #18

BLOG #25, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE #18
June 24, 2015

Alfred Noyes (1880 – 1958), though born in England, later moved to America, where he was Professor of English at Princeton (1914 – 1923). A prolific writer, he is best known for his The Loom of Years (1902), Poems, (1904), Forty Singing Seamen (1907), Tales of the Mermaid Tavern, and Forest of Wild Thyme (1905).

But out of all the works he ever wrote, it is The Highwayman that has given him immortality. My mother loved it, knew it by heart, and often performed it. One of the fascinating poetry genre we call “story poems,” it has an irresistible beat to it.

It is a poem to be recited to an audience—be sure and include children and teenagers—on a dark and stormy night. Turn the lights down low, or out completely. The more ghostly the setting the better!

Once heard, it can never be forgotten—especially if recited or performed by elocutionists like my mother. I’ve loved it ever since I first heard my mother perform it when I was young. If this was what poetry was—I wanted more of it!

THE HIGHWAYMAN
PART ONE
I

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

II

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle
His pistol butts a-twinkle
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

III

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

IV

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

V

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,.
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

VI

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair I’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(Oh, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.

PART TWO
I

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon,
When the road was a gipsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
Marching—marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

II

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

III

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
“Now keep good watch!” and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
                Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

IV

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

V

The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain.

VI

               Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

VII

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,.
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

VIII

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

IX

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

X

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
                Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

XI

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
                Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

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"It Couldn't Be Done"

BLOG #16, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
“IT COULDN’T BE DONE”
April 22, 2015

I’ve long been fascinated by stories having to do with this abstraction we call “success.” Just what is it that separates the successes from the failures in life? Thousands of books promising success to those who will buy and read them vie for our attention on bookstore shelves. And success remains one of the most turned-to categories in quotation books.

Each issue of Success magazine is redolent with articles, interviews, and bios geared to readers who are searching for success in their lives.

But is it possible that readers can get so inundated by torrents of success-related hype that they miss the great simple truths that, if internalized, could make all the difference in the world? The sober reality is that all the advice in the world won’t work if the advisee doesn’t.

I’ve long been intrigued by studies that confirm one reality in America today: four-point straight A students usually end up working for B-/C+ students. The former all-too-often being all theory and the latter being persistent pluggers who doggedly slog through obstruction after obstruction en route to eventual success. In reality, grade-point average is a lousy indicator of life-success.

Edward A. Guest (1881 – 1959), though born in England, achieved his fame in America. In 1899, Guest, exchange editor of the Detroit Free Press, began writing daily columns, the chief feature being homespun family-friendly poetry. By 1916, these poems were being syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the nation. Thanks to daily and weekly syndication, weekly radio programs, royalties on books and greeting cards, movie rights, Guest became the highest paid poet in America. His work dominated the first half of the twentieth century.

Elocutionists such as my beloved mother memorized and performed Guest’s most popular poems before audiences large and small across the nation.

One of his most popular, and most widely anthologized poems, was this one – still alive a hundred years later (my mother performed it often):

IT COULDN’T BE DONE

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Included in Guest’s book, The Path to Home (Chicago: Reilly & Lee Company, 1919). Original text owned by Joe Wheeler.

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QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY

BLOG #16, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
QUOTATIONS TO LIVE BY
April 16, 2014

It is said that poetry is the most condensed literary art form there is–much more than is true of novels and short stories. I would disagree: quotations are even more condensed than poems.

Of course that gets us into the debate as to whether quotations deserve to be classified as an art form. I submit that they are. It is almost impossible to create shorter condensations of wisdom than in quotations.

For example, how could it be possible to condense the essence of the following any further than these?

“God is Love” (John 4:8)

“I came, I saw, I conquered” (Julilus Caesar)
“All the World’s a Stage.” (Shakespeare)
“What’s past is prologue” (Shakespeare)
“To err is human, to forgive divine.” (Pope)
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35)

Looking back through time, I think I was first captivated by quotations in the old Reader’s Digest. In their early days, their editors routinely featured quotations worth remembering, the essence of Alexander Pope’s immortal “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”

All of us aspire to be witty, to articulate thought so splendidly listeners will be in awe of us. But if we are not the first to come up with timeless phraseology–well the artist James McNeill Whistler captured it best in a conversation he had with Oscar Wilde:

Wilde: “I wish I’d said that.”
Whistler: “You will, Oscar, you will.”

Early on in teaching, I wrote on my classroom blackboard one morning, a quotation I felt worth remembering. I wrote another on the board the following day, and so on. It didn’t take long to discover that it was the first thing students noticed when they walked into the room.

Over time, that daily quotation became part of my persona. So much so that if I missed a day, my students demanded I immediately remedy that omission.

Fast forward to the last eighteen years of writing and anthologizing full time. As books bearing my name accumulated, former students began checking back in. A number mentioned those long-ago quotations–many had copied down their favorites: a number still had them. Several suggested I take advantage of the worldwide web and tweet one every day. That way, they could still pretend they were students of mine.

So it was that on October 1 of 2011, I tweeted my first quotation. I have not missed a day since. In late June of 2014, I’ll log in my 1000th quotation.

I take these postings mighty seriously for I want each of them to be worth remembering. I’ve discovered that most quotation books are merely compendiums of quotations, mighty few of them worth writing down, even fewer worth internalizing.

Though I have well over a million quotes archived, it is never easy to select a month’s worth of quotes. For I determined early on to avoid merely posting same ol’ same ol’s; quotes originating with individuals many of our contemporaries don’t even recognize. Because of this, in order to maintain a good mix of quotes old and new, I continuously search for current quotes worth remembering. I add humorous ones as day-brightening changes of pace as well. But always I also feature the greatest ones from ages past.

I’ll be most interested in your reactions to our quotes. If enough interest is expressed, I’ll consider making them available in printed form as well.

If you like quotes but haven’t yet checked ours out, you can access them at www.twitter.com/JoeWheelerBooks.

 

 

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Will Carleton's "The First Settler's Story"

BLOG #30, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE #5
WILL CARLETON’S “THE FIRST SETTLER’S STORY”
July 24, 2013

Several days ago I had a long phone conversation with a dear cousin of mine, Steve Hamilton. Especially dear because when we were young, we were perpetually getting into mischief together. What one of us didn’t think of to perpetrate, the other one did. Back in those “spare the rod and spoil the child” days, given that our fathers were in the prime of their manhood, Steve and I got spanked together with alarming regularity. Not that it was considered alarming to us, for we merely considered it part of the rhythm of life—except we didn’t believe for an instant that old line, “Son, this hurt me more than it hurt you!”

Well, it so chanced that this time our conversation veered into the subject of words, and their impact on relationships. How, in spite of our best resolutions, wrong words seem to have a fiendish propensity to slip out at the most inopportune moments, and leave heartbreak in their wake.

Which led to this old poem bequeathed to me by my minister-father. The only such case I can ever remember, because it was my elocutionist mother who filled my memory banks with unforgettable poetry. After I quoted some of the most memorable lines to Steve, I promised to send him a photocopy of the complete poem. In doing so, I was impressed to make it the subject of this week’s blog.

Will Carleton (1845-1912), was born in Hudson, Michigan; became an editor and prolific writer of poetry, long and short. This particular poem was included in Carleton’s collection, Farm Festivals (Harper & Brothers, 1881).

Scan_Pic0043

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a life-long battle with my tongue. In the process, I’ve learned that what I’ve said, no matter how sincere my penitence may be, cannot be apologized away. In such cases, prayer doesn’t help much either because God cannot save us from the consequences of our own mistakes and ill-chosen speech.

So, just in case any of our readers suffer from the same malady I do, I’m sharing the essence of this story-poem with you. The essence, because it is a very long story-poem. Too long for a blog.

It is chronicled as though it was a true story, and so I consider it to be. It is told in the first-person by the so-called “First Settler.” An intrepid soul who moved west, into unsettled territory, bringing his lovely girl-bride with him.

But it was such a lonely life!

“Well, neighborhoods meant counties, in those days;
The roads didn’t have accommodating ways;
And maybe weeks would pass before she’d see—
And much less talk with—any one but me. . . .”

And finally I thought that I could trace
A half heart-hunger peering from her face.
Then she would drive it back, and shut the door;
Of course that only made me see it more.
‘Twas hard to see her give her life to mine,
Making a steady effort not to pine;
Twas hard to hear that laugh bloom out each minute,
And recognize the seeds of sorrow in it.”

Time passed, and the stresses resulting from isolation, bad weather, failed crops, poverty, and inadequate most everything, one day precipitated the following:

“One night, I came from work unusual late,
Too hungry and too tired to feel first-rate—
Her supper struck me wrong (though I’ll allow
She hadn’t much to work with, anyhow);
And when I went to milk the cows, and found
They’d wandered from their usual feeding ground,
And maybe left a few long miles behind ‘em,
Which I must copy, if I meant to find ‘em;
Flash-quick the stay-chains of my temper broke,
And in a trice these hot words I had spoke:
‘You ought to’ve kept the animals in view,
And drove ‘em in; you’d nothing else to do.
The heft of all our life on me must fall;
You just lie round, and let me do it all.’

That speech—it hadn’t been gone a half a minute,
Before I saw the cold black poison in it.
And I’d have given all I had, and more,
To’ve only got it back in-door. . . .

She handed back no words, as I could hear;
She didn’t frown—she didn’t shed a tear;
Half proud, half crushed, she stood and looked me o’er,
Like someone she’d never seen before.”

That night, too proud to apologize, he went to bed with the issue unresolved. Next morning,

“So, with a short ‘Good-bye,’ I shut the door,
And left her as I never had before.”

That afternoon, sensing an oncoming storm, he left work early and hurried home.

“Half out of breath, the cabin door I swung,
With tender heart-words trembling on my tongue;
But all looked desolate and bare;
My house had lost its soul—she was not there!
A pencilled note was on the table spread,
And these are something like the words it said:
‘The cows have strayed away again, I fear;
I watched them pretty close; don’t scold me, dear
And where they are, I think I nearly know:
I heard the bell not very long ago
I’ve hunted them all the afternoon;
I’ll try once more—I think I’ll find them soon.
Dear, if a burden I have been to you,
And haven’t helped as I ought to do,
Let old-time memories my forgiveness plead;
I’ve tried to do my best—I have, indeed.
Darling, piece out with love the strength I lack,
and have kind words for me when I get back.’”

Just as he finished reading her note, he heard thunder—and the storm swept in.

“As if the ocean waves had lost its way;
Scarcely a pause the thunder-battle made,
In the bold clamor of its cannonade.
And she, while I was sheltered, dry and warm,
Was somewhere in the clutches of this storm!
She who, when storm-frights found her at her best,
Had always hid her white face on my breast!”

He rushed out, with his dog, frantically searching for her.

All night we dragged the woods without avail;
The ground got drenched—we could not keep the trail.
Three times again my cabin home I found,
Half hoping she might be there, safe and sound;
But each time ‘twas an unavailing care:
My house had lost its soul; she was not there!

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When, climbing the wet trees, next morning sun
Laughed at the ruin that the night had done,
Bleeding and drenched—by toil and sorrow bent—
Back to what used to be my home I went.
But, as I neared our little clearing-ground—
Listen!—I heard the cow-bell’s tinkling sound;
The cabin door was just a bit ajar;
It gleamed upon my glad eyes like a star!
‘Brave heart,’ I said, for such a fragile form!
She made them guide her homeward through the storm!’
Such pangs of joy I never felt before.
‘You’ve come!’ I shouted, and rushed through the door.

Yes, she had come—and gone again. She lay
With all her young life crushed and wrenched away—
Lay—the heart-ruins of our home among—
Not far from where I killed her with my tongue.
The rain drops glittered mid her hairs’ long strands,
The forest thorns had torn her feet and hands,
And midst the tears—brave tears—that one could trace
Upon the pale but sweetly resolute face,
I once again the mournful words could read—
‘I’ve tried to do my best—I have indeed!’”

But Will Carleton wasn’t yet quite through with his story-poem. He added six more lines. Six lines that grant him immortality—for untold thousands of readers have written them down, posted them on walls, and learned them by heart. Repeated them over and over until they made them part of their very souls.

Here they are – italicized:

Boys flying kites haul in their white-winged birds;
You can’t do that when you’re flying words.
‘Careful with fire,’ is good advice, we know:
‘Careful with words,’ is ten times doubly so.
Thoughts unexpressed may sometimes fall back dead;
But God himself can‘t kill them once they’re said.