Saturday, 14 June 2014

More Poetry Last Month


Poem about Canada
by Douglas Le Pan

No monuments or landmarks guide the stranger
Going among this savage people, masks
Taciturn or babbling out an alien jargon
And moody as barbaric skies are moody.

Berries must be his food. Hurriedly
He shakes the bushes, plucks pickerel from the river,
Forgetting every grace and ceremony,
Feeds like an Indian, and is on his way.

And yet, for all his haste, time is worth nothing.
The abbey clock, the dial in the garden,
Fade like saint’s days and festival.
Moths, years, are here unbroken virgin forests.

There is no law – even no atmosphere
To smooth the anger of the flagrant sun.
November skies sting string like icicles.
The land is open to all violent weathers.

Passion not more quick. Lightnings in August
Stagger, rocks split, tongues in the forest hiss,
As fire drinks up the lovely sea-dream coolness.
This is the land the passionate man must travel.

Sometimes – perhaps at the tentative fall of twilight –
A belief will settle that waiting around the bend
Are sanctities of childhood, that melting birds
Will sing him into a limpid gracious Presence.

The hills will fall in folds, the wilderness
Will be a garment innocent and lustrous
To wear upon a birthday, under a light
That curls and smiles, a golden-haired Archangel.

And now the channel opens. But nothing alters,
Mile after mile of tangled struggling roots,
Wild-rice, stumps, weeds that clutch at the canoe,
Wilds birds hysterical in tangled trees.

And not a sign, no emblem in the sky
Or boughs to friend him as he goes; for who
Will stop where, clumsily constructed, daubed
With war-paint, teeters some lust-red Manitou?

When I was an undergrad, the man who wrote this was my professor for an overview course in English Literature geared to orient students in the Honours English stream. At that time the English department at my university was engaged in a debate as to whether it was relevant to consider the life and times of a poet, his reading and personality, in considering his work. Prof. Le Pan was on the 'no biography' side of the debate. And it never occurred to me to cheat and look him up. 

That may be one of the reasons why his poetry was opaque to me then. It was bitter, mannered, thick with allusion, dark to me. I could not extract much from it. I felt much the same about T S Eliot. And I recall my mother, who was a university lecturer in English literature at that time, telling me that when I grew up I would be able to grasp their meaning and grow to love T S.

My father-in-law fought his way up Italy in WW II, as did Le Pan. Perhaps none of us who have never been so seared can find their way into the world view that war engendered. I think Le Pan must have loved the quiet storied towers of his university a lot and was permanently scarred by being torn from them. He was the most impatient and exigent teacher I have ever had; my impression was that he despised us all, clumsily constructed poor fools that we were.

 "And now the channel opens. But nothing alters,"

What age and maturity have brought me is the ability to pity him. And while I have lines of Eliot's work echoing in my head, I have not reread Le Pan for decades, until today.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Because last month was poetry month.

W. H. Auden, Lullaby 
Lay your sleeping head, my love, 
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s sensual ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreadful cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but not from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of sweetness show
Eye and knocking heart may bless.
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness see you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.
I would have been in my late teens when I encountered this 
poem, and it shook me to my core.
The song is by a man writing about a man, but that, to me, 
is not important. What resonates, like a peal of bells, 
is the calm, resigned knowledge of the cost of love and 
of its nature. In the still centre of the small hours the 
poet finds acceptance and peace. 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Old dog, no new tricks

I have just discovered that Blogger has deleted, or lost, all of the blogs that I followed from my Dashboard page. I do not know when, why or how this happened, but if you run one of the blogs I follow, this is the explanation for why I have not been to read you lately. Every time one of my apps upgrades, here or on my iPad, it takes me a long, long time to figure out what has happened and what the work-arounds are. I hope that younger folk who have grown up with social media figure the stuff out faster and better. Unfortunately I do not have a resident guru, and have to depend on my BIL by email to keep me informed, at least partially. I recall one of my favourite bloggers complaining about something like this a while back, but since my list seemed intact, I did not pay enough attention. Nor did I bookmark in the ordinary way.

I will figure out how to get you all back again. Somehow. In the meantime, I can still access those of you who cross post to Facebook. Even though I do not understand the latest upgrades there either. This is life in the slow lane, no kidding.

Speaking of lanes. Ours is glare ice as we had rain last night and a miserly degree or so above freezing. I went out to get JG's truck from the garage to the house so that he would not have to wear spikes on his boots to get to it and after I backed it out took about six tries to back it over in front of the house porch. In 4 wheel drive. Wheels were just going whrrrr on the ice and going nowhere. We are supposed to get some snow later today and after that I guess we will have to cover the ice with grit until we get good melting weather. (Theoretically this will happen, but I am finding it hard to imagine.)

And happy Spring to you, too.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Something Borrowed

A most skilled and amusing writer, Nance of the Deptof Nance, has taken up the challenge of a question meme for the month of March. I love what she is doing it and have decided to play along, sort of, starting a week late. The bolded lines are the questions from the meme.

What is the view from the window of the room where you are currently sitting?
Here is the view; I am sitting in my wingback recliner with my iPad. What you cannot see is that outside, even though it is mildly sunny, fine snow is falling, glittering, catching the light.
There is nothing more cheering than a big vase of pink and white tulips poised against the snow beyond the windows.

Is there anything you don't or won't cook?
If I had any choice, I would not cook anything. After over fifty years of meal planning and preparation for my family I am tired of the whole thing. We are acquainted with a couple who eat three meals a day in restaurants: there are three reasons this would not work for me, alas. First, it is a fifteen minute drive to one restaurant and over half an hour to any others from where we live. Second, Even if we lived in town, the energy required to get dressed and go to a restaurant is almost as daunting as the thought of preparing yet another meal. Third, and definitive. The husband would not co-operate.
As for what I won’t cook; shellfish. Stinks.

Where is the one place you have lived that you remember most fondly and why?
My parents’ cottage on Lake Erie, east of Point Pelee. They bought it when I was eight and we spent whole summers there, with my father commuting to work, for many years. It was a big old wooden frame building with a full screened porch across the front and a fine sand beach. I had friends there to play with and a fair bit of freedom to bike the back roads and wander the beaches alone or with them.
The cottage sat on a triple lot, with vacant lots to either side. There were birds and clouds and wildflowers, water and wind, the undivided attention of  my mother when I wanted it, visits from all of the extended family, fresh perch from the fishery down the beach, fresh produce from the roadside stands and market at Leamington, a stray cat that adopted us, and unlimited unsupervised places to explore and savour.
I regret that my cousin and I went back to see what the old cottage was like, a few years ago. The cottage was still there, in renovated state. But the lovely beach and the woodlands were all gone, replaced by a crowded confusion of cottages and homes. And the water was thick with algae and offal.

Can you, along with Edith Piaf, say "Je ne regrette rien"? 
I don’t regret the big choices. I have written about that in earlier posts (and if I ever find one or more of them I will add in links, not that you need to follow them but because I am like that). In your seventies, you can look back and see what your choices have made of you, and be content that you have done the best you could.
Little things are worthy of regret. I regret agreeing to meet my first love, a man to whom I was engaged for over a year, when we were both middle aged. It would have been better to keep, as I also did not do with my parents’ cottage, the unsullied memory. I regret procrastinating about many things and therefore not doing them well. I regret never bringing my French up to fluency level: it has never been more that classroom level. (Do you speak more than one language fluently?  If so, how did you learn it?)
It is no use regretting the loses that a long life brings. It is only necessary to summon up enough courage to live with them.

Have you heard the song Let It Go from the movie Frozen, and if so, do you like it. No, thank goodness.I don't need any more earworms.

Do you get regular mani/pedis?
Although I do not regret having spent a lot of my younger life in swimming pools (swimming is my only skill), it has brought me grief in the fact that fungus, from wet, contaminated dressing room floors, has infected my toenails. I spend more time and money that I like with podiatrists and cannot wear sandals or get a pedicure, ever, lest I infect others.
As for the fingernails, I did once get a manicure. Ouch.

Did you watch the Winter Olympics?  Which events did you enjoy seeing the most?
I love the skating. And this year, for the first time, I got to see it without interruptions or anchors or ads. The CBC streamed the coverage and from my iPad I could hook in, watch at my convenience, and pause and bookmark if I had to do something else.
The extreme skiing contests were more than mind boggling, although I did watch some of it. How those young people get up the courage to slide down railings and sail high in the air over immense jumps is beyond me. Nor can I really relate to eye-hand co-ordination that can place a rock less than an inch from a line to score, especially when it has to bump aside other rocks to do so. I have a friend who is a curling fanatic, but she has never been able to explain the fine points of the game in a way I could understand.
What I love about the Olympics is the emotion – the joy, the sorrow, the determination, the sheer improbability of what they do. What I do not love is the sheer improbability of some of the judging and refereeing (if that is a word?) and the way the medal scores for a country are hyped. It makes the words and tune of ‘Jingo is my name” play over and over in my soggy brain.

I think that I have now done most of the prompts and I will try to keep up for the rest of the meme. If I don't procrastinate too mcuh.

Monday, 20 January 2014

More about Snow, Among Other Things

And here we go again ... another five days of Arctic air mass and minus twenty something temperatures. Ah well, it can't be more stressful than our drive home from Fort Erie (opposite Buffalo, New York, American friends) through Toronto to our home just south of Ottawa. Slush. Very srong crosswinds. Blowing snow. Sloppy salt spray. Tentative drivers creeping along. A massive blockage on the four lane throughway (401) that we tried to avoid by taking a secondary road where the slush, creepers and spray were aggravated by uncertainty as to when and where we ought to rejoin the freeway. I HATE winter driving, I really do. Even when my intrepid husband is doing it.
On top of it all, the so-called smart sensors in the car went nuts and kept howling at us when there was no reason to do so. Ice build-up, probably. And the owner of the car (me, alas) has no idea how to kill the system.
Enough about winter already. My BIL is in Cuba on holiday, lucky for him. That is why we were on the road, to check in on my mother-in-law in his absence. She'll be 97 if she makes her birthday.
We stay in a hotel when we visit, just to give ourselves a peaceful bolthole. But the hotel where we like to stay was full of hockey players, aged 7  to 14, since the hotel is next to the town arena where a hockey tournament was in progress. Peaceful it was not. While many of the team coaches and parents hasd made provision to amuse the kids when they were not playing, some did not. One set of parents set up a party room -across the hall from our room, alas- booted their kids out into the halls and ignored their behaviour, which was atrocious. After enduring screaming, thumps on our door, and assorted nastiness, around 11:00 pm I went out into the hall, did my best hall monitor act on the brats and stormed down to the desk where I, among other civilians, threatened to call the police. Then I happened upon a couple of tournament organizers who, when they told me THEIR kids were not the problem, were treated to my very best ice cold tantrum mode.
I am almost ashamed to admit that I enjoyed evey minute of doing this, especially freezing the kids with a gorgon stare.
Although it is not really their fault, poor things. I blame it on the  careless, selfish parents   who would rather party (and shout in the halls themselves, the louts) than care for their kids.
My BIL is forbidden to take any more vacations on hockey tournament weekends.
(Just kidding, BIL! I know we didn't have to make the trip.)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014


Over the last day or so I have been reading references to a ‘polar vortex’. Some cursory research brought me this definition.

An Arctic air mass known as a "polar vortex" has descended over much of Canada and the eastern and mid-west U.S., causing temperatures to plunge, nearing -50 C with the wind chill in some regions. A polar vortex is a large, frigid air mass located near the Earth's geographical poles. The vortex is continually circulating a pool of cold air in a counter-clockwise direction. As the air is being circulated in place, it grows colder and denser.
While it's normal for the some of the vortex's frigid air to leach southward during the winter, this year has proved to be exceptional. Dan Riddle, senior meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service, said historical records indicate that outbreaks of unusually cold weather have occurred in U.S. in the past, with a frequency of about one every 20 years. (Précised from CTV.)

While we are getting some stiff winds and very cold nights, the weather described as the result of this ‘vortex’ is not unusual in eastern Ontario where I live. Our weather varies between the ‘Arctic air mass’ temperatures in the minus twenties and colder Celsius (Fahrenheit zero and below essentially) and temperatures just below freezing, with the most common weather being somewhere in between.
Today is cold, sunny and, this morning, -16ºC (2.3ºF). If you are walking outside facing into the wind, your eyes tear up, but if you are ‘dressed for it’ that is about the worst that happens to you. Around here the dress code includes long underwear top and bottom, jeans, sweater with a vest over it, preferably quilted, and to go outside adding a quilted coat, heavy socks and boots with liners, thick lined gloves and a tuque or cap with ear flaps.

Today is a good snowshoeing day because you can get into the woods and out of the worst of the wind. If you are skiing, you watch your companions for patches of frostbite. Your fingers, toes and nose will get cold first and your nose will, I assure you, run like a tap. The birds at our feeders are fluffed up into round feathery balls but are flitting around quite happily. Airplanes do not do as well and I understand flights at Pearson International are mostly still grounded.

So are the deer as we now have over a foot of snow down, with two layers of crust in it and the slender legs of the deer do not cope well in these conditions. The poor things will now do what is called ‘yarding up’; that is, congregate in an area with feed and trample paths through it. The neighbourhood turkeys, however, can run on top of the latest crust and are excavating the last grain of corn from the deer feeding station at this moment.

Every once in a while I run across an exhortation to embrace winter, to ‘relax and enjoy it’. Note that I am not advocating this. Winter in the city is a dirty, sludgy, miserable mess full of salt-encrusted boots, biting wind howling down highrise corridors and crazed, skidding cars. What it is in the country, however, is beautiful. Even on a gray, shadowless day with the wind whipping shredded clouds overhead, there is interest and beauty. On a sunny day even the deadly ice is so wonderful to see that it can bring tears to my eyes. And I have plenty of logs to pile onto the fire.

Monday, 23 December 2013


I have my groceries, after much broken field running through the aisles, presents are wrapped and under the tree. Baking is well underway. Turkey is in the frig. I guess this is a pretty smug post, eh? Sorry.

Peace on Earth!!!