Merry Christmas

December 24, 2011

A long poem for what I hope is a peaceful, restful holiday.

 

Christmas Trees

by Robert Frost

 

A Christmas Circular Letter

 

 

The city had withdrawn into itself

And left at last the country to the country;

When between whirls of snow not come to lie

And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove

A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,

Yet did in country fashion in that there

He sat and waited till he drew us out

A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.

He proved to be the city come again

To look for something it had left behind

And could not do without and keep its Christmas.

He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;

My woods—the young fir balsams like a place

Where houses all are churches and have spires.

I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.

I doubt if I was tempted for a moment

To sell them off their feet to go in cars

And leave the slope behind the house all bare,

Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.

I’d hate to have them know it if I was.

Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except

As others hold theirs or refuse for them,

Beyond the time of profitable growth,

The trial by market everything must come to.

I dallied so much with the thought of selling.

Then whether from mistaken courtesy

And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether

From hope of hearing good of what was mine,

I said, “There aren’t enough to be worth while.”

 

“I could soon tell how many they would cut,

You let me look them over.”

 

“You could look.

But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”

Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close

That lop each other of boughs, but not a few

Quite solitary and having equal boughs

All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,

Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,

With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”

I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.

We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,

And came down on the north.

 

He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:

“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

 

Then I was certain I had never meant

To let him have them. Never show surprise!

But thirty dollars seemed so small beside

The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents

(For that was all they figured out apiece),

Three cents so small beside the dollar friends

I should be writing to within the hour

Would pay in cities for good trees like those,

Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools

Could hang enough on to pick off enough.

A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!

Worth three cents more to give away than sell,

As may be shown by a simple calculation.

Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.

I can’t help wishing I could send you one,

In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

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Favourite book of all time

October 12, 2011

Last day in the 30 day book challenge. It’s kind of sad, actually. I was getting used to posting every day.

Not quite sure how my “favourite book by my favourite author” wouldn’t be my favourite book of all time…But I guess I should try to come up with something different.

Won’t be too different, though. When I think about the story that’s had the biggest impression on me over the longest time… Of Mice and Men.

It was one of the first Steinbeck stories I read. As a novella it’s a beautifully concise example of his style, with descriptive passages evoking the landscape alongside narrative passages. Thematically, the book’s discussion of the need we all have for companionship and the systems that work to keep us isolated from each other is significant, and the emotional core of the book, the relationship between George and Lennie, is truthful even almost a century later.

And the Gary Sinese and John Malkovich movie version might just be one of my favourite films of all time. I certainly watch it more often than probably any other movie.

So there we are. 30 days of my apparently surprisingly narrow reading habits.

Favourite title

October 10, 2011

I’m becoming a broken record, but this exercise is making me realize how much of my reading life was shaped by a few influences (I think I’m more widely read than this seems, but when something’s important or well-loved, that’s the way it is).

So I was thinking of A Wrinkle in Time, which so beautifully describes one of the central ideas of L’Engle’s novel.

But then I thought about how much I love Steinbeck’s titles of classical allusion. Grapes of Wrath, from the Battle Hymn of the Republic; In Dubious Battle, from Satan’s war with God in Paradise Lost; and The Winter of our Discontent, from Richard III. I love puzzling out all the implications that one text has on another, and I think the one I like best, because of the characters and texts involved are most ambiguous, is The Winter of our Discontent.

One that I was pleased to read because of how it took me aback and made me reconsider my own thinking… JFK’s Profiles in Courage. I talked about it here.

In an age where we’ve come to feel that other people should be able to give us the answers and solve our problems, it was refreshing to read JFK’s call for personal responsibility, and that if we required more from the people we support in the public sphere, things would, eventually, improve. Only paying attention to them every four years doesn’t do any of us any good, nor does taking the promises of people who say they can put more money in your pocket.

I’d love to have more money. On the other hand, I also love living in a country that takes some care of its marginalized people, allows the opportunity to become better educated in whatever field I choose, and the freedom to do most anything I’d want. I don’t think higher taxes are too high a price to pay for those things, and I’m ashamed that politicians seem to be able to convince us otherwise.

I don’t know, I’m pretty misanthropic, so I see flaws in almost all the characters I love that I don’t think I share (although I certainly have my share of others). I never had the sister issues of Laura Ingalls Wilder, although she might come close, but our times are too removed to judge, I think. The people everyone might say, like Jo March, or Anne Shirley, I don’t know that I have the creative fire for. I think I might have to stick with Vicky Austin. I could see her growing up into the kind of person I think I am.

I’ve always felt like I should read Moby Dick, and even more so after reading more Melville. Sometime I’m just going to have to bite the bullet. Having it on Kobo helps; no huge book to drop on my face if I fall asleep or even thicker paperback that’s impossible to hold.

Favourite book I own

October 4, 2011

In terms of book as object…

Another favourite series from my childhood is the Anne series (and I’ve been lucky enough to move 5 minutes up the road from the home where L.M. Montgomery wrote most of the books!), and I’d have to say that my favourite Anne book is Anne’s House of Dreams.

If Gilbert is my favourite male character, then the book where he finally gets what he wants should be my favourite, no? In the earlier books, Anne is too flakey for me. By Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne’s House of Dreams her spark and creativity is undiminished but her temperament is improved; and the rest of the cast of characters is memorable and heartwarming.

It helped, too, as someone with an early love of books, that my mother had given me a copy of the beautiful 1917 edition. I was happy to get it on my Kobo so I could read it without being worried about hurting it.

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for it is the one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.

p. 132 of the Penguin ed. of East of Eden.

Favourite female character

September 26, 2011

Why are most of the most memorable characters and books the ones we encounter in childhood? I reread her book so often, it’s like this character became a part of me as a young person, and is, still, now.

Vicky Austin and her family are in a series of books by Madeleine L’Engle. I liked them better than the Murry family from the other major series of books; the Murrys always seemed more like types to me, perfect even in their imperfections. Vicky has the same joys, sorrows, strengths and imperfections that I think we all do, and the writing is more believable, maybe because in my favourite book (A Ring of Endless Light) the narrative is more closely aligned with Vicky’s perspective.

Besides, what teenager doesn’t want 3 boys after her and to swim with the dolphins? As I got older Vicky’s story showed me (aside from its spiritual dimensions) that we’re never as awkward as we feel; there are always more boys, and more grand opportunities for living, than we think.