Rising Up from COVID-19 on trails in Southborough, Massachusetts

The Southborough Open Land Foundation, in collaboration with Southborough Artist Catherine Weber, invited installations of art on the trails of the Elaine and Philip Beals Preserve in Southborough, Massachusetts. The theme of the outdoor exhibition is Rising Up.

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but rising up every time we fail.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

COVID-19 rereads: E. B. White 1899 -1995 on Walden, home, human nature and children

Essays of E. B. White (Perennial Classics)

The libraries are closed. The book returns are jammed. So I have been reading paperbacks that live in semi-retirement on my shelf. E.B. White’s book of essays reached out to me the other night. The first essay in the volume is White’s tribute to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. The essay was published on the 100th anniversary of Thoreau’s death.

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Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

E. B White On Walden

Thoreau is unique among writers in that those who admire him find him uncomfortable to live with-a regular hairshirt of a man…Hairshirt or no, he is a better companion than most, and I would not swap him for a soberer or more reasonable friend even if I could. I can reread his famous invitation with undiminished excitement. The sad thing is that not more acceptances have been received, that so many decline, for one reason or another, pleading some previous engagement or ill health. But the invitation stands. It will beckon as long as this remarkable book stays in print-which will be as long as there are August afternoons.  p. 32

On Maine

Familiarity is the thing-the sense of belonging. It grants exemption from all evil, all shabbiness. A farmer pauses in the doorway of his barn and he is wearing the right boots, a sheep stands under an apple tree and it wears the right look, and the tree is hung with puckered frozen fruit of the right color…The spruce boughs that bank the foundations of the homes keep out the only true winter wind, and the light that leaves the sky at four o’clock automatically turns on the yellow lamps within, revealing to the soft-minded motorist interiors of perfect security.  p. 37

On narrow mindedness

The habit of thinking in small, conventional terms is, of course, not limited to us Americans. You could drop a leaflet or a Hubbard squash on the head of any person in any land and you would almost certainly hit a brain that was whirling in small, conventional circles…only one outlook in a million is nonparochial.  p. 96

On memory

I find this morning what I most vividly and longingly recall is the sight of my grandson and his little sunburnt sister returning to their kitchen door from an excursion, with trophies of the meadow clutched in their hands–she with a couple of violets, and smiling, he serious and holding dandelions, strangling them in a responsible grip. Children hold spring so tightly in their brown fists-just as grownups, who are less sure of it, hold it in their hearts.   p. 138

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Let America be America Again by Langston Hughes 1902-1967

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Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

-Langston Hughes

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Vintage Classics)

Meister Eckhart and Sir Stanley Spencer

Eckhart, the 13th century German theologian and mystic, 
believed in the equality of all creatures, as a Christian principle.

Spencer depicted Christianity as an every-day matter. When this painting
was first presented to the Royal Academy in London, it was rejected for being
outrageous and an offense to the arbiters of good taste. St. Francis is dressed
not in a brown habit, but in a green bathrobe and slippers, like Spencer's 
father wore.
If I were alone in a desert
     and feeling afraid,
I would want a child to be with me.
For then my fear would disappear
     and I would be made strong.
This is what life in itself can do
because it is so noble, so full of pleasure
     and so powerful.
But if I could not have a child with me
I would like to have at least a living animal
at my side to comfort me.
let those who bring about wonderful things
in their big, dark books
take an animal
to help them.
The life within the animal
will give them strength in turn.
     For equality
gives strength in all things
and at all times.
     -Meister Eckhart 1260-1328
See the source image

St. Francis and the Birds, Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959, The Tate, London

Lost by David Wagoner

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Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

– David Wagoner

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, 1927

Traveling with Eusabio was like travelling with the landscape made human. He accepted chance and weather as the country did, with a sort of grave enjoyment. He talked little, ate little, slept anywhere, preserved a countenance open and warm, and like Jacintohe had unfailing good manners. The Bishop was rather surprised that he stopped so often by the way to gather flowers. One morning he came back with the mules, holding a bunch of crimson flowers-long, tube-shaped bells, that hung lightly from one side of a naked stem and trembled in the wind.

“The Indians call these rainbow flowers.”  p. 232

No one but Molny and the Bishop had ever seemed to enjoy the beautiful site of that building-perhaps no one ever would…Seen from this distance, the Cathedral lay against the pine-splashed slopes as against a curtain. When Bernard drove slowly nearer, the backbone of the hills sank gradually, and the towers rose clear into the blue air, while the body of the church still lay against the mountain…

“Setting,” Molny used to tell Father Latour, “is accident. Either a building is part of a place, or it is not. Once that kinship is there, time will only make it stronger.”  p. 270

Death Comes for the Archbishop (Annotated)

How a Poem Moves and Best American Poems 2019

My review of Adam Sol’s How a Poem Moves, and of The Best American Poetry 2019 appears in the current issue of The Christian Century.

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How a Poem Moves: A Field Guide for Readers of Poetry

A Storm in April by Richard Wilbur

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Some winters, taking leave,
Deal us a last, hard blow,
Salting the ground like Carthage
Before they will go.

But the bright, milling snow
Which throngs the air today—
It is a way of leaving
So as to stay.

The light flakes do not weigh
The willows down, but sift
Through the white catkins, loose
As petal-drift

Or in an up-draft lift
And glitter at a height,
Dazzling as summer’s leaf-stir
Chinked with light.

This storm, if I am right,
Will not be wholly over
Till green fields, here and there,
Turn white with clover,
And through chill air the puffs of milkweed hover.


This Will Be A Sign: Poems by Jeffrey L. Johnson

These are emblematic poems, imagistic unities, with form and content in harmony, helping us to see and how earth and heaven come together.  -Mark Jarman, author of The Heronry

Rich, earnest and reverential, these poems pay loving attention to our lives on earth.  –Jason Gray, author of Radiation King

Moments of attention and blessing shine out, crossing over into words where they are, briefly, held.  -Margaret Gibson, Connecticut Poet Laureate

There is the poem on the page, but also signaled is the comtemplation that precedes the poem. My sense is the contemplative mode-never easy or settled-prepares the way for the poem.  -Maurice Manning, author of Railsplitter

Johnson’s poems draw us into intimate relationship with earthbound life…Quiet and melancholic, alert and attentive, some of them seem almost like prayers. -Richard Chess, author of Love Nailed to the Doorpost

Good Friday


We shall try again this year
to turn the tethered cedars
into signposts for doctrine
we’ve made up, or into poles
for flying flags of conquest,
or into corner frames for sails
to billow gales of church talk.
We’ll let them be anything
but what they are: two limbs
lifted from the earth, joined
at right angles, in creative
friction, to fuel a sacrificial
fire that beckons far-off
exiles on their beaten road,
toward an unexpected answer.