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Said to be Yardley Oak, the tree about which William Cowper wrote his poem:


Change is the diet on which all subsists
Created changeable, and change at last
Destroys them ...

Dear Friends,

My header is a verse from a poem by Cower as recited by heart in Mansfield Park.  Fanny is in Portsmouth and oh the weeks lengthen out as she can barely endure the days.  How is one to get through so many hours until tomorrow and then tomorrow will have as many.  And then there's another day yet.  Our narrator tells us

       "Her eagerness, her impatience, her longings to be with them, were such as to bring a line or two of Cowper’s Tirocinium for ever before her. “With what intense desire she wants her home,” was continually on her tongue, as the truest description of a yearning which she could not suppose any schoolboy’s bosom to feel more keenly."

Fanny's uncle had promised Easter, but (we are told) it came late that year.  And then nothing happened.

When I sent Miss Schuster-Slatt a poem I wrote not that long ago, she said I must have been remembering the above line.  Not consciously, but of course I had it somewhere echoing in my brain. Since reading Mansfield Park at age 15 (and then rereading countless times) bits of it are never that far from consciousness, half-called up:

                      A simple poem

She longs for home
with all her heart
A quiet place
where she and they
are not unhappy.
It is so quiet.

At supper we
enjoy our talk
We have kindness
in our hearts towards
one another.
The best time of day.

We try to lengthen it out,
sitting there.

We have two cats
who break the peace
discontent, they
stare and run about
causing us to shout,
they then subside
to sleep.

We long for more:
we have computers
books, writing, chores
cyberspace friends
She wants a place
outside the home
where she can go

My dreams are painful.
he won't confide
nor she.
why should they?
So I turn to books,
For comfort, as a means of
sustaining myself, for cheer,
I return to them.

Yet it comes to me
I need this setting
not to feel I'm
in a state of suspended

Why is this?
I do not know,
It should not be.
It makes no sense.

Back to Mansfield Park: much later, remembering what life was really like at Mansfield Park, and now looking at what it's like at Portsmouth, Fanny Price recites a famous sentence by Samuel Johnson in one of his many Ramblers on marriage. At the end of a meditation on the limitations and miseries of marriage, Johnson says something like something like while marriage has so many pains, celibacy has few pleasures. So while life at the park had many pains, life in Portsmouth has few pleasures: for Fanny they are Susan and reading and the occasional walk along the ramparts, and letter writing (but reading hers from others is, she learns, an ambivalent experience).

Fanny (Sylvester Le Tousel) a renter and chuser of books at last; reading with Susan ( Eyrl Maynard) (from the 1983 BBC masterpiece Mansfield Park, all stills in this blog are from this mini-series)

in life we have to make do with circumstances that somehow evolve over time often without our quite noticing what will be the consequences, and some are usually unpredictable or unforeseen, and then find they are difficult to live with. Much more than who we are married to or if we are not married, affects us this way. For my case, it's where I have ended up living, where my house is, a safe and comfortable place economically but not one I can easily replicate elsewhere and if I try, I might lose the (relative) safety.  Alexandria, Va, a suburb where I have little in common with anyone near by.  Not that I would necessarily at all in NYC, the dream of congenial companionship is just that, a dream.

As to where we end up living and how much money we have, Jane Austen certainly knew that; in the last two years of her life one of her brothers went bankrupt; another was in danger of losing all from litigation. She found herself having to leave London and be back in Chawton and also very ill. There were hardly any people of their low income and high education around them, so their regular contacts were limited. One of her letters contains this plangent phrase, she is standing by a window looking out, and she feel instinctively the fatal illness. She had not made that much money on her books after all and was not quite satisfied with Emma (she knew her content was limited) or the two on hand.

She is also in Mansfield Park as Mary Crawford:  Mary says marriage is a take-in; we might say having children is even more so, because you don't even get to choose, and usually much less the circumstances around them (who they end up with peers, in the US the schools you find in the neighborhood you land in).  The moral of Oedipus is you have only a wee bit choice from what's on offer.

Looking round at her sister's fate, the Vicar's cottage, Mary (Jackie Smith-Wood) says it's a take-in.

All must somehow be lived with.  Best not to have illusions, they increase the pain of existence, put us at risk of degrading exploitation and intense hurt as we reach out.   We end up with cats :)

Returning home: Edmund (Nicholas Farrell) dismayed, Fanny intense, Susan eager to have left hers.  Still,

Scenes must be beautiful which daily views please daily
Whose novelty survives long knowledge and the scrutiny of years.
                                 From Cowper's The Task as recited by Edmund to Fanny in the 83 film

Fanny and Edmund as children walking in the meadow as he recites Cowper

Each time I have heard Nicholas Farrell read those lines in the film, I have remembered what I feel when I go for a walk in the park (locally and also Central Park) or look out at from my room and felt comforted.

But also the deep pleasure of walking on the rampats with Susan and Henry at Portsmouth

Miss Drake from her nest of comforts returning to her world of Austen and movie work for today ...


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:51 am (UTC)
Bikes & poem
Dear Ellen,

I loved the poem at your blog!

And I wanted to let you know that you can now buy one-speed bikes with
foot brakes again. Apparently they're in fashion. We saw a lot of
them at the Shakespeare festival in Winona.

Ask for one for Christmas!

Jun. 30th, 2009 02:53 am (UTC)
From a friend:

"I am sorry to hear that you are so sad, which I had also picked up from reading your livejournal."

Jul. 2nd, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC)
Another poem
Another friend has commended my poem and asked me if I showed it to anyone. Only those who came to the blog. This does embolden me to add another from my store of these original bit-off poems.

I'll preface it with this one by Adrienne Rich:

Poetry for Tuesday, June 29, 2009 to WWTTA:

"Photograph of the Unmade Bed"

Cruelty is rarely conscious
One slip of the tongue

one exposure among so many

a thrust in the dark
to see if there's pain there

I never asked you to explain
that act of violence

what dazed me was our ignorance
of our will to hurt each other


In a flash I understand
how poems are unlike photographs

(the one saying This could be
the other This was

The image
isn't responsible

for our uses of it
It is intentionless

A long strand of dark hair
in the washbasin

is innocent and yet
such things have done harm


These snapshots taken by ghetto children
given for Christmas

Objects blurring into perceptions
No 'art,' only the faults

of the film, the faults of the time
Did mere indifference blister

these panes, eat these walls,
shrivel and scrub these trees --

mere indifference? I tell you
cruelty is rarely conscious

the done and the undone blur
into one photograph of failure


This crust of bread we try to share
this name traced on a window

this word I paste together
like a child fumbling

with paste and scissors
this writing in the sky with smoke

this silence

this lettering chalked on the ruins
this alphabet of the dumb

this feather held to lips
that still breathe and are warm

1969, Adrienne Rich, from _The Will to Change_


I wish I could believe cruelty of the tongue unconscious. I used to think it and what a solace. But when I was around 21 I became close friends for a time with a friend who convinced me otherwise. Nonetheless, a great statement seeking to comfort us.

The needle artist

I wrote a poem to you when you were twelve:
it was about how obtuse you are,
a laughing thing making light of what's
not a joke.
Now I find myself recalling my father's words to me
when he spent time with you for the last time.
You were eleven.
He said, "she has a lot of spite in her.
and her ego is so large she can't see
beyond it."

Now I see that he was saying something
fundamental about you as a kind of
gift to me
to enable me to cope.

Well I can't.

But I do see how this explains a lot.

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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