Two Haiku

Midnight frost–
I’d borrow
the scarecrow’s shirt.

— by Basho

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment.

— by Buson

Reading a book of haiku is different than reading one. You start to realize they are more like a diary than an individual work of art. Some are funny. Some simply notice something. Some record the feeling of the season. Some are about feeling old. I hope you enjoy these two.

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Louisa May Alcott Books

My children, especially the middle one, are loving Louisa May Alcott books. We began with Little Women, then Little Men, and now we started Jo’s Boys. I enjoy them too, and it makes me wonder what is so special about them.

First, they are familiar from one of our favorite games: Authors. It’s an old set of cards from before my childhood. LMA is the only female author. I often wonder if there’s an updated version of the game, and if so, who are the authors? And if not, perhaps I ought to make one!

But why else do we like them? If you read any analysis written about them, especially Little Women, you learn how feminist the book is. Do we like them because they contain such strong and unique women? Well, partly yes, I think. But we like Laurie just as much. And Mr. Bhaer. And then the next two books have a lot of strong and unique boys in them. Maybe we like strong and unique characters in general. There are plenty of those.

More than just the characters, I enjoy the series. I enjoy watching the family grow up and expand. Unlike, say, Charlie Brown, who never gets older, these characters actually mature at an appropriate rate. Jo’s Boys begins ten years after Little Men ended. It seems right. I mean, we laugh because Nat has a moustache, and that’s a funny thought, but isn’t that just like real life? Don’t we have the temptation to laugh at young men when they start growing up and growing facial hair?

These books are also comforting. They have their funny moments, their poignant moments, their tragic moments, their long-winded descriptive moments. But it all strikes chords with our life. Plumfield school sounds a lot like our own homeschool. Demi is “the deacon” because he is pious and philosophical, and we love him for that, not despise him. Tommy is a prankster, and we love him for the trouble he gets into because he is still so good-natured, not horrible and dark. So many contemporary books strike off-notes because we don’t live our lives like the people in the book do. LAM’s books are closer to home than The Boxcar Children or James and the Giant Peach (not that those are bad books).

Finally, I like the wisdom that seems to wrap its way into the books. Jo grows older and learns better how to manage boys, and the book shares that wisdom with us. Amy grows prettier and more sophisticated and keeps her passion for art even as she lives out her life as Laurie’s wife and Bess’s mother. The characters grow more character as they age! I love that. I want to do the same. I think I’ve finally hit on the main reason I like the series. I want to be more Amy as I continue to grow and learn. I don’t want to diminish and become a pale version of myself. God wants me to bloom and be the full version of myself. It seems true that the more we learn from life’s experiences and the nature of other people, the fuller we can extend our own arms out to the world.

Little Women

I’ve had such drama in my life lately, that I want to write something normal. So I will quote a quiet little truth found in Little Women, which I’m reading aloud to the kids right now. This quote comes when Jo and Beth are at the seaside and Jo realizes that Beth is going to die soon.

… for often between ourselves and those nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve which it is very hard to overcome. Jo felt as if a veil had fallen between her heart and Beth’s, but when she put out her hand to lift it up, there seemed something sacred in the silence, and she waited for Beth to speak.

— from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 1869

When I read that line aloud, it struck me as comforting. There’s nothing wrong in feeling shy talking to a loved one. It’s a natural thing, and often the silence between you and that loved one is full of more meaning than the words could ever have.

Piano

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

— “Piano” by D.H. Lawrence, 1885-1930

I was looking for something beautiful and complex to think about. Memories of past music will do. This poem makes me think of Sunday evening church services in my childhood. The varnished wood ceiling slanting up to a peak. The dimmed lights as the sermon begins. The worn wooden benches. Blue hymnals and Bibles in the shelf in front of me, green hymnals beneath the seats. The backlit cross behind the pulpit. A hushed and holy atmosphere, unlike any atmosphere I’ve known since.

Dear Mrs. Bird

As I tried to enjoy what should have been a lovely chat about romance, I made a proper promise to myself. Absolutely no more letters in the magazine.

I had meant well, but I’d nearly put dear Kathleen in the most difficult position. The thought brought me up short. It was bad enough not telling Bunty I was writing back to the readers, but if Mrs. Bird ever thought Kathleen suspected me of tampering with advice in the magazine and not reported it to her, it would be very serious indeed.

— from Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce, 2018

I finally found another book I really enjoy. It has been awhile. Dear Mrs. Bird takes place in London during WWII, and the heroine, of course, does not stop tampering with advice in the woman’s magazine she works for. The language in the book is really funny, full of Capital Letter Words which imply something is Terribly Important. The relationships in the book are endearing, especially the friendships formed. I appreciate that it is clean. I haven’t been able to recommend much on here lately because of too much immorality, to which I’m sensitive lately. Dear Mrs. Bird is totally recommendable. Go read it!

Reading Jane Kenyon

Every adult novel I pick up these days gets put down again. Too dark. Too much tragedy. I already know this story. Too much drinking. I don’t care.

But I can pick up my volume of Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems (2005), and I am instantly in a world I understand and want to be in. I’ve liked Jane Kenyon since I first learned about her, but right now I feel like she is a true kindred spirit.

Here’s a poem by her to make us think about summer again.

Peonies at Dusk

White peonies blooming along the porch
send out light
while the rest of the yard grows dim.

Outrageous flowers as big as human
heads! They’re staggered
by their own luxuriance: I had
to prop them up with stakes and twine.

The moist air intensifies their scent,
and the moon moves around the barn
to find out what it’s coming from.

In the darkening June evening
I draw a blossom near, and bending close
search it as a woman searches
a loved one’s face.

— pg. 254

One Year Off

On a rare solo meander through the nonfiction stacks at my library, I pulled out this book by David Elliot Cohen: One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind For a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children (1999). As warning bells sounded in my head (such as, hey, you shouldn’t even be reading about stuff that might make you envious), I decided to read it. Because I have three kids. Because I like round-the-world adventures. Because it sounded brave.

And it was brave! And funny. And poignant. David Elliot Cohen, his wife, their nanny, and their three children aged 3, 7, and 8, took off for places like Zimbabwe, Paris, Australia, Thailand, and Italy. They failed at homeschooling, but really, what was this for the kids except a giant history and social studies unit? And although they were worried about spending so much time together as a family, they pulled through. They survived each other. They became closer!

I ended up liking this book just for its own merits. But the analytical part of me wonders why I really picked it up. I think I know that I will never take trips around the world. It’s quite possible I will never fly in an airplane (haven’t yet!). It’s not that I have anything against world travel. On the contrary, I find it fascinating. It probably has more to do with how I experience things best. Probably, although I haven’t tested it, I would prefer reading about a trip to the African wilderness than actually taking one.

Was there one place Cohen went that I would like to go? Maybe the houseboat in Burgundy, France. That’s my style of adventure. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Great Coral Reef in Australia, but is it actually something on my bucket list? Nah. I know I won’t get there. And anyway, my husband absolutely doesn’t want to fly in an airplane, and if I did drag him along somewhere against his wishes (and that would be pretty much anywhere), he’d drive me nuts. He’d console himself with large quantities of food. He’d talk. Constantly. What would I do to console myself, I wonder? Hmmm. I’d probably bury my nose in a book.