Monday, March 26, 2012

The Skylark (John Clare, 1835)

The rolls and harrows lie at rest beside
The battered road; and spreading far and wide
Above the russet clods, the corn is seen
Sprouting its spiry points of tender green,
Where squats the hare, to terrors wide awake,
Like some brown clod the harrows failed to break.
Opening their golden caskets to the sun,
The buttercups make schoolboys eager run,
To see who shall be first to pluck the prize--
Up from their hurry, see, the skylark flies,
And o'er her half-formed nest, with happy wings
Winnows the air, till in the cloud she sings,
Then hangs a dust-spot in the sunny skies,
And drops, and drops, till in her nest she lies,
Which they unheeded passed--not dreaming then
That birds which flew so high would drop agen
To nests upon the ground, which anything
May come at to destroy. Had they the wing
Like such a bird, themselves would be too proud,
And build on nothing but a passing cloud!
As free from danger as the heavens are free
From pain and toil, there would they build and be,
And sail about the world to scenes unheard
Of and unseen--Oh, were they but a bird!
So think they, while they listen to its song,
And smile and fancy and so pass along;
While its low nest, moist with the dews of morn,
Lies safely, with the leveret, in the corn.


I’m not sure what drew me to John Clare’s The Skylark (from The Rural Muse) this morning or to these hare and bird paintings from ancient Pompeii.  

Possibly it was something as simple as matching in my mind the vivid, visceral life the English poet and Italian painters each invested in their natural world renderings.  Or possibly I was sensing and reacting to the permanently-on-the-edge-of-danger status that defines the hare and the ground-nesting skylark’s existence (and frankly the lives of most wild animals) and identifying it with Clare's disaster-just-around-the-corner life (the great poet lived on the edge of a forest of madness that later surrounded him) and that of the precarious Pompeiians (who lived on the edge of Vesuvius).  

I think my pinched (often-on-the-edge) back pricked my brain and animated me, but I'm glad it did.   What a wonderful poem; what great paintings!

Yesterday evening was lovely also.  Our dinner guests couldn’t have been nicer and getting the house together for them, restoring its gleam, made a world of difference in our psyches, my troubled back notwithstanding.  The meal we served is the perfect relaxed entertaining/spending time with your guests program -- not too much hassle in cooking and keeping things moving.  If anyone is interested, I will send you the carte (along with wine suggestions). 

Six more days until Jane’s home.  So far, I’ve learned from her emails that she has now added to my shot glass collection by filling in the missing Amsterdam and Copenhagen pieces.  She’s a lovely girl.  I hope she's trying some Danish foods she doesn't think she'd enjoy.  I tried to prime her for the experience by telling her that apparently Alfred Hitchcock used to have Universal Studios import his breakfast bacon (a food she does enjoy) for him regularly from Denmark.  Unfortunately, she's not yet a big Alfred Hitchcock fan, so I don't think that "reached" her at all.


  1. I have the oddest collection of tiny glasses left over from my father. I am not sure what they are for. Shot glasses, I suppose. But they have strange shapes and sizes. They are quite pretty. I am sure each for some special use.

    Funny to read this and remember what my father would say to me from afar. All those letters he wrote, always in perfect architectural script, like a skyline, egging me on and into the world.

    I can't help but think how lucky your daughter is, both to have this chance to travel and to have such a loving father.

  2. My own shot glass collection began (which is fairly common, I think) when I started taking business trips and, hanging around airports between flights, I saw these inexpensive trinkets. Caroline, who traveled a lot, supplemented the collection. It forms a funny, but revealing family history. I wish I'd tried purchasing glasses in Seoul, Hong Kong, Wuhan and Guangzhou when we were in China on our adoption trip, but I guess the fact I didn't supplements the family history -- we were crazed and confused. I have a funny history with my parents' correspondence, which eventually perhaps I'll get over. But I remember it all and the handwriting also. I love the idea of perfect architectural script. We now live surrounded by our parents' possessions and lots of memories, including calligraphic ones. I wish I'd had a note from Jane today, but her itinerary makes it a little difficult, I suppose. I really enjoyed your post including the MFA poem and the piece about the stock market crash and financial matters. They've been running through my mind. Curtis