misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Calling Things by Their Right Names, from Anna Barbauld's Evenings at Home

Dear Friends,

On Wednesday I was moved to put the following poem by Margaret Atwood on Wompo:  It's from a section of her Collected Poems, Power Politics, 1917: a series of incisive, plain spoken (the bare style) powerful statements, eloquent, they exhort us today still as the world they describe has just grown more so:

Here is a three parter:

They are the hostile nations


In view of the fading animals
the proliferation of sewers and fears
the sea clogging, the air     -
nearing extinction

we should be kind, we should
take warning, we should forgive each other

Instead we are opposite, we
touch as though attacking,

the gifts we bring
even in good faith maybe
warp in our hands to
implements, to manoeuvres


Put down the target of me
you guard inside your binoculars,
in turn I will surrender

this aerial photograph
(your vulnerable
sections marked in red)
I have found so useful

See, we are alone in
the dormant field, the snow
that cannot be eaten or captured


Here there are no armies
here there is no money

It is cold and getting colder

We need each others'
breathing, warmth, surviving
is the only war
we can afford, stay

walking with me, there is almost
time / if we can only
make it as far as

the (possibly) last summer.

I wrote about my motives for putting it there as follows:  Of late some personal experiences and what I've been reading online and in weekly periodicals, as well as friends' stories of their lives and those people they know have begun to persuade me that there will be no improvement in lives for most people in this next 8 years at all, indeed more ground will be lost -- less jobs for anyone, at less pay, more of daily experience controlled and limited by the interest of large corporations and institutions (I now can't even get myself working sinus medicine), and war and more war (military power) to shore up the power of such conglomerates, no matter how or what such wars smash. Margaret Atwood just published a new dystopia; I'm not much for science fiction (can't read it), but what I read about it shows how sharp and insightful she is from her earliest realistic novels (Cat's Eye) to what I was reading tonight.

A long thread emerged with women saying "Amen" and they agreed.  A happy result is Farideh Hassanzedah put one of her poems on the list and has now rejoined WWTTA:

Have a talk with Time.
Try to understand him,
and let him understand you.
Reconcile yourself with him---
forget the conflicts,
the repeated offenses,
his axe 's strokes.

Don't knock at the doors of kings.
Walk on , walk on without regret
for what you leave behind.
Let your footsteps be your country.

Don't carry weapons,
Don't pile up treasure,
or seek a grand title .
Don't engrave your image
on a kingdom's coins,
or sign your name
to secret documents.

Don't be a statue
in a public square.
Don't build a museum
or be a museum exhibit.
As you walk this earth,
don't act like a priceless antique.
Don't mask your face with mosaics.
Don't play the buffoon
or the martyr.

Put your exile
on the tip of your tongue,
and say a kind word with a smile,
without a trace of arrogance or grandeur.
Kind words have neither arrogance or grandeur.

The house of your love
Is the nightingale's tear drops.

Be sure to tell him:
I love you
from the heart of my heart.
From the heart of my heart
I love you.

The heart of your love
Is the nightingale's wings.

Delighted, be always delighted.
Be fruitful like any tree
beside a river.

Take your delight
from the earth—
where else will you find it?
Go with an elegant grace
even in the midst of ruins,
and let the world be yours
without its sad mythologies,
its labyrinths.

Adapted from a long poem: THE TRANSIENT THINGS by: RAAD ABDULQADIR

It put me in mind of Anna's Barbauld's Evenings at Home, an enormously popular and influential book in the 19th century.  These were revolutionary teaching stories showing that learning occurs in contexts, situations, and as opposed to early primers where impossibly good children learn pious lessons and lists of words, she situates her learning  -- as does though less entertainingly, skilfully and humanely, Felicite-Stephanie Genlis in Les Veillees de Chateau (Evenings at the Castle, which in her letters Austen says she is reading and enjoying).  But the book is more than this:  the little pieces are also satiric fables and moving hymn-like poems of quietude and peace.   One I want to use to end this meditation meant ase anti-war, anti-fascistic militarist controlling society (where the discourse is such and experience set up such that there is no place to complain for yourself, let alone make a general statement that can be effective):

Calling Things by Their Right Names

Charles. Papa, you grow very lazy. Last winter you used to tell us stories, and now you never tell us any; and we are all got round the fire quite ready to hear you. Pray, dear papa, let us have a very pretty one?
Father. With all my heart-What shall it be?
C. A bloody murder, papa!
F. A bloody murder! Well then--Once upon a time, some men, dressed all alike ....
C. With black crapes over their faces.
F. No; they had steel caps on:-having crossed a dark heath, wound cautiously along the skirts of a deep forest ...
C. They were ill-looking fellows, I dare say.
F. I cannot say so; on the contrary, they were tall personable men as most one shall see:-I-eaving on their right hand an old ruined tower on the hill ...
C. At midnight, just as the clock struck twelve; was it not, papa?
F. No, really; it was on a fine balmy summer's morning:­and moved forwards, one behind another ....
e. As still as death, creeping along under the hedges.
F. On the contrary--they walked remarkably upright; and so far from endeavouring to be hushed and still, they made a loud noise as they came along, with several sorts of instruments.
C.  But, papa, they would be found out immediately.
F. They did not seem to wish to conceal themselves: on the contrary, they gloried in what they were about.- They moved forwards, I say, to a large plain, where stood a neat pretty village, which they set on fire ....
C. Set a village on fire? wicked wretches!
F. And while it was burning, they murdered-twenty thou­sand men.
C. 0 fie! papa! You do not intend I should believe this! I thought all along you were making up a tale, as you often do; but you shall not catch me this time. What! they lay still, I sup­pose, and let these fellows cut their throats!
F. No, truly-they resisted as long as they could.
C. How should these men kill twenty thousand people,
F. Why not? the murderers were thirty thousand.
C. 0, now I have found you out! You mean a BATTLE.
F. Indeed I do. I do not know of any murders half so bloody.

Some of my favorites too are about cats. 

A cat named Darcy and his friend:

We are thinking of giving our cat, Clarissa, a middle name: Marianne, in honor of her penchant for dead leaves.


Tags: cats, politics, women's poetry

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