Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Waiting at the Window

~ A. A. Milne (1882-1956)

These are my two drops of rain
Waiting on the window-pain.

I am waiting here to see
Which the winning one will be.

Both of them have different names.
One is John and one is James.

All the best and all the worst
Comes from which of them is first.

James has just begun to ooze.
He's the one I want to lose.

John is waiting to begin.
He's the one I want to win.
James is going slowly on.
Something sort of sticks to John.

John is moving off at last.
James is going pretty fast.

John is rushing down the pane.
James is going slow again.

James has met a sort of smear.
John is getting very near.

Is he going fast enough?
(James has found a piece of fluff.)

John has hurried quickly by.
(James was talking to a fly.)

John is there, and John has won!
Look!  I told you!  Here's the sun!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Song of the Jellicles

[My mom's new kitty -- the inspiration for today's poem]

~ T.S. Elliot (1888-1965)

        Jellicle Cats come out to-night
        Jellicle Cats come one come all:
        The Jellicle Moon is shining bright−
        Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats are rather small;
Jellicle Cats are merry and bright,
And pleasant to hear when they caterwaul.
Jellicle Cats have cheerful faces,
Jellicle Cats have bright black eyes;
They like to practise their airs and graces
And wait for the Jellicle Moon to rise.

Jellicle Cats develop slowly,
Jellicle Cats are not too big;
Jellicle Cats are roly-poly,
They know how to dance a gavotte and a jig.
Until the Jellicle Moon appears
They make their toilette and take their repose:
Jellicle Cats wash behind their ears,
Jellicle dry between their toes.

Jellicle Cats are white and black,
Jellicle Cats are of moderate size;
Jellicle Cats jump like a jumping-jack,
Jellicle Cats have moonlit eyes.
They're quitet enough in the morning hours,
They're quitet enough in the afternoon,
Reserving their terpsichorean powers
To dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.

Jellicle Cats are black and white,
Jellicle Cats (as I said) are small;
If it happends to be a stormy night
They will practise a caper or two in the hall.
If it happens the sun is shining bright
You would say they had nothing to do at all:
They are resting and saving themselves to be right
For the Jellicle Moon and the Jellicle Ball.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Oh yet we trust that somehow good

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

from In Memoriam


Oh yet we trust that somehow good
     Will be the final goal of ill,
     To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
     That not one life shall be destroy’d,
     Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
     That not a moth with vain desire
     Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
     I can but trust that good shall fall
     At last–far off–at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
     An infant crying in the night:
     An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Victimae paschali laudes

~ attributed to Wipo of Burgundy (995? - 1948?)
  tr. The English Hymnal, 1906

Christians, to the Paschal victim
offer your thankful praises!

A lamb the sheep redeemeth:
Christ, who only is sinless,
reconcileth sinners to the Father.

Death and life have contended
in that combat stupendous:
the Prince of life, who died,
reigns immortal.

Speak, Mary, declaring
what thou sawest, wayfaring:

"The tomb of Christ, who is living,
the glory of Jesus' resurrection;
Bright angels attesting,
the shroud and napkin resting.
Yea, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he will go before you."

Christ indeed from death is risen,
our new life obtaining;
have mercy victor King, ever reigning!

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

We sang this during communion Easter Sunday.  I couldn't find a good recording in English, but here's a nice Latin version:

And here's a luscious improvisation on the organ:

Friday, April 25, 2014

K-drama review: God's Gift — 14 Days

Photo credit:

Genre: Melodrama, crime/mystery
16 episodes
My rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Lee Bo Young as Kim Soo Hyun
Cho Seung Woo as Ki Dong Chan
Kim Tae Woo as Han Ji Hoon
Kim Yoo Bin as Han Saet Byul

Plot Summary

Kim Soo Hyun is an investigative journalist who writes for a television show that covers unsolved crimes in an attempt to present all the evidence, expose the perpetrator, and encourage viewers to call if they have any leads.  Her current project involves a serial killer who’s been killing young women in back alleys, and she’s pretty sure she’s found the culprit.  While they are on air, the show’s hotline receives a call from a man who claims to be the killer, but says he’s bored with what he’s been doing and has decided to do something different – this time he has kidnapped a child and she will die, and this will be the president’s fault.  He puts the child on the phone to prove he actually has her... and it’s Soo Hyun’s nine-year-old daughter Saet Byul.

Soo Hyun spends the next week regretting what a lousy mom she’s been and is devastated when her daughter’s body is found in a reservoir.  Apparently she drowned while trying to escape from her captor. At the end of the traditional forty-nine day long period of mourning the police have gotten no closer to finding the culprit, and in a fit of despair Soo Hyun goes down to the place where her daughter died and throws herself in.

At the same time, our other main character, private investigator Ki Dong Chan, has been chased down by goons (long story), tied up and thrown into the reservoir just downhill of where Soo Hyun has thrown herself in.  Somehow his ropes come untied and he’s able to swim over to her and pull her out of the river.  After they get back to their homes they each realize that they’ve been sent back to 14 days before Saet Byul’s death.

The mother is determined to do everything in her power to stop her daughter’s death, but her only ally is Dong Chan, since he’s the only one who knows what’s going to happen – her husband understandably thinks she’s lost her mind when she starts babbling about their daughter being kidnapped and killed.

What I liked about it

The characters are well-written.  They have solid, believable motivations and the conflicts are built in, not ginned up for the sake of furthering the plot or creating emotional tension.  The acting is really good, especially by Cho Seung Woo who plays Dong Chan.  He is a bitter ex-cop, who’s really sweet underneath, and he’s clever and can be funny at the most unexpected times.

There’s lots of politics (which I mostly didn’t understand) and cover-ups and scandals and red herrings, and the mystery begins to seem impossible to unravel.  Obviously there are many layers of intigue or Mom would simply be able to prevent the kidnapping.  I like complications in this kind of show, trying to figure out what was really going on, who was really behind all this, who knew what when.

The pacing was good – the plot kept moving forward, sometimes rapidly, sometimes more slowly, which was a good mix to keep it from getting either overwhelming or boring.


Sometimes it was TOO complicated and I lost track of the details and all the sub-plots and sub-sub-plots and who was actually a suspect and who’d been cleared, and sometimes there were plot threads that got dropped and never picked up again. 

I didn’t much care for the end, but that’s a common failing of Korean drama.  It wasn’t a bad ending... it just seems like, given the way things worked out it should have felt inevitable, and it really didn’t. Maybe the writers meant for it to be sort of open-ended, but it didn’t feel that way, either.  But unsatisfactory endings are so common with K-drama that I’ve come to accept them – I just rewrite them in my head if I dislike them enough.

Would you enjoy this show?

If you like crime or mystery shows where you have to pay attention to the clues, this should be a good fit.  There’s no romance and there’s nothing light and fluffy about it except for a few scenes with the little girl and some of her grown up friends, but even those are bittersweet, given the context.

Watch it on DramaFever or Viki.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

maggie and milly and molly and may

~ E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubble:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world as and large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Have you heard of Coursera?

Another new term you might have seen is MOOC:  Massively Open Online Course, which is what Coursera offers.

From the website:  “Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.”

I’ve taken three classes over the last couple of years, Introduction to Mathematical Thinking, The Ancient Greeks, and Reason and Persuasion: Thinking Through Three Dialogues by Plato.

The format for each is similar.  There are lecture videos to watch and homework assignments and tests.  There are discussions forums available.  Most classes have some standard you have to meet in order to receive certification. You get out of it what you put into it, and that will vary according to your goals, how much time and effort is demanded by the class, and how much time and effort you can afford to devote to it.

Once you’ve taken a course you’ll always have access to the archives so you don’t have to finish by the deadline, and you can listen to the lectures over again if you like.

The only class for which I met the standard for certification was The Ancient Greeks.  My goal for this class was to get a solid overview of the period – the flow of events and ideas.  Of course, we’ve touched on Ancient Greece over the years in our home school, reading Plutarch’s Lives together and Rosemary Sutcliff’s adaptations of The Illiad and the Odyssey.  I cut my teeth on Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and I’ve read some of her other books, like The Echo of Greece, but I lacked a cohesive understanding of this period, and that’s what this course offered.  I did not have time to read everything on the syllabus, but I feel like I’ve gotten a decent start on the topic, a foundation to build on in the future, which is what I wanted.

My goals for the Reason and Persuasion course were to read The Meno at a deeper level than my previous effort, to learn more about Socrates and the Socratic Method, and to be introduced to philosophy.  Since the class covered three of Plato’s dialogues and spent two weeks covering recent developments in philosphy, a lot of what was taught was outside the scope of my interest.  I watched all the introductory material, read The Meno and The Euthyphro and listened to their lectures, and listened to the lectures on The Republic. 

I did not write the paper, or listen to the later lectures, and I only took two tests, but I feel the course was a success because I met my own goals.  Near the end of the course, I even decided to buy the textbook.  I really like the translation and I want to reread the dialogues regularly in the future, especially The Meno, since it’s the one that sets the standard for interacting with a student.  Also, I really appreciated the instructor’s style and insight and wanted to finish reading his commentary.  (The textbook was available online for free in PDF format, but I find that a difficult format to get much use out of.  I want a book I can curl up in bed with or carry with me when running errands.  I want to be able to underline and write notes, and flip quickly through pages to find things.  My brain simply has not adapted to e-readers – not for a purpose like this, anyway.)

The one class where I did not meet my own goal was Introduction to Mathematical Thinking.  That class was brutal.  The pace was too rapid for me.  It took me ages to do my homework and the only way I could understand what was going on was by asking the members of my study group to walk me through things.  They were very kind, and one in particular, Denise Gaskins of Let’s Play Math, was very patient and helpful with her clear explanations, but I was falling farther and farther behind everyone else, and I finally gave up. 

I’m not completely discouraged though – I believe that the time I spent in that class won’t go to waste, even it just sits in my mind and turns to compost.  When I took it in the fall of 2012, it was seven weeks long but since then they’ve reformatted it into a ten-week class and have offered it twice more.  I’m interested in trying it again in the future, but that will depend on... well, life.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dyeing eggs with onion skins

Something to file away for next year.

Last week Elaienar showed me this tutorial on a traditional Eastern European way of dyeing eggs for Easter, first decorating them with flowers, leaves, and feathers, then wrapping them tightly in onion skins and boiling in a pot of water filled with more onion skins.

Sunday afternoon, she and I went around picking pretty things and dyed a few, just to see how it would turn out and whether we would want to do it again next year. Decorating and wrapping them was such clumsy work that we only did a few and left the rest plain just to see how they’d turn out in the dye bath.

Take a look:

We used to have a hen that laid eggs a rich brown like that – I think she was a Wyandotte.

We used several yellow onions, but only had one purple one. Next time I think we’ll use all purple and see if we can get a redder color.

This one featues a dandelion:

And this one a goose feather:

The large pattern on this one was made with a cherry blossom and the smaller one at 11 o’clock was made with a violet. The “latitude” lines are caused by the texture of the onion skin.

In the picture below, the egg on the right features an azalea blossom, the one to the left of that, a few blossoms of lilac. I don’t know what plant caused the bright green leaves – it’s from a tree on our place. I think a sprig of chickweed is what made the fleur-de-lis pattern on the egg in the foreground.

The cracked and misshapen egg at the back happened because the shell crakced while I was wrapping it with string and I decided to carry on just to see how it would turn out. During cooking, the insides ran out and made it really hard to peel off the onions and the cherry blossoms and feathers I’d stuck on. Next time I would just throw an egg like that into the chicken’s scraps bucket and let them deal with it.

We’ll probably do it again next year, and if we get good enough at it, the next time I’ll use eggs that have been dried out first, so the finished eggs will last several years.

What do you think?

Oh, and next year?  I think I should remember to pick only edible plants, if we’ll be planning on boiling and eating the eggs – I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me while we were wandering around, picking things, and while a lot of it isn’t toxic I couldn’t identify some of the things we picked.  I guess we’ll be giving these eggs to the chickens in a couple of days.

Monday, April 21, 2014

La Corona: Ascention

~ John Donne (1572-1631)

7.        Salute the last, and everlasting day.
           Joy at the uprising of this Sunne, and Sonne,
           Yee whose just teares, or tribulation
           Have purely washt, or burnt your drossie clay;
           Behold the Highest, parting hence away,
           Lightens the darke clouds, which hee treads upon,
           Nor doth hee by ascending, show alone,
           But first hee, and hee first enters the way.
           O strong Ramme, which hast batter’d heaven for mee,
           Mild lambe, which with thy blood, hast mark’d the path;
           Bright torch, which shin’st, that I the way may see,
           Oh, with thy owne blood quench thy owne just wrath,
           And if thy holy Spirit, my Muse did raise,
           Deigne at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

La Corona: Resurrection

~ John Donne (1572-1631)

6.        Moyst with one drop of thy blood, my dry soule,
           Shall (though she now be in extreme degree
           Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly,) bee
           Freed by that drop, from being starv’d, hard, or foule
           And life, by this death abled, shall controule
           Death, whom thy death slue; nor shall to mee
           Feare of first or last death, bring miserie,
           If in thy little booke my name thou enroule,
           Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
           But made that there, of which, and for which ’twas;
           Nor can by other meanes be glorified.
           May then sinnes sleep, and deaths soone from me passe,
           That wak’t from both, I againe risen may
           Salute the last, and everlasting day.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

La Corona: Crucifying

~ John Donne (1572-1631)

5.       By miracles exceeding power of man,
           Hee faith in some, envie in some begat,
           For, what weake spirits admire, ambitious, hate;
           In both affections many to him ran,
           But Oh! the worst are most, they will and can,
           Alas, and do, unto the immaculate,
           Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a Fate,
           Measuring selfe-lifes infinity to’a span,
           Nay to an inch. Loe, where condemned hee
           Beares his owne crosse, with paine, yet by and by
           When it beares him, he must beare more and die;
           Now thou art lifted up, draw mee to thee,
           And at thy death giving such liberall dole,
           Moyst, with one drop of thy blood, my dry soule.

Friday, April 18, 2014

La Corona: Temple

~ John Donne (1572-1631)

4.       With his kind mother who partakes thy woe,
          Joseph turne back; see where your child doth sit,
          Blowing, yea blowing out those sparks of wit,
          Which himselfe on the Doctors did bestow;
          The Word but lately could not speake, and loe
          It sodenly speakes wonders, whence comes it,
          That all which was, and all which should be writ,
          A shallow seeming child, should deeply know?
          His Godhead was not soule to his manhood,
          Nor had time mellowed him to this ripenesse,
          But as for one which hath a long taske, ’tis good,
          With the Sunne to beginne his businesse,
          He in his ages morning thus began
          By miracles exceeding power of man.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

La Corona: Nativitie

~ John Donne (1572-1631)

3.       Immensitie cloysterd in thy deare wombe,
          Now leaves his welbelov’d imprisonment,
          There he hath made himselfe to his intent
          Weake enough, now into our world to come;
          But Oh, for thee, for him, hath the’ Inne no roome?
          Yet lay him in this stall, and from the Orient,
          Starres, and wisemen will travell to prevent
          Th’effect of Herods jealous generall doome;
          Seest thou, my Soule, with thy faiths eyes, how he
          Which fils all place, yet none holds him, doth lye?
          Was not his pity towards thee wondrous high,
          That would have need to be pittied by thee?
          Kisse him, and with him into Egypt goe,
          With his kinde mother, who partakes thy woe.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

La Corona: Annunciation

~ John Donne (1572-1631)

2.       Salvation to all that will is nigh,
          That All, which alwayes is All every where,
          Which cannot sinne, and yet all sinnes must beare,
          Which cannot die, yet cannot chuse but die,
          Loe, faithfull Virgin, yeelds himselfe to lye
          In prison, in they wombe; and though he there
          Can take no sinne, nor thou give, yet he’will weare
          Taken frmo thence, flesh, which deaths force may trie.
          Ere by the spheares time was created, thou
          Wast in h is minde, who is thy Sonne, and Brother,
          Whom thou conceiv’st, conceiv’d; yea thou art now
          Thy Makers maker, and thy Fathers mother,
          Thou’hast light in darke; and shutst in little roome,
          Immensity cloysterd in thy deare wombe.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

La Corona

~ John Donne (1572-1631)
A series of seven sonnets

1.       Deigne at my hands this crown of prayer and praise,
          Weav’d in my low devout melancholie,
          Thou which of good, hast, yea art treasury,
          All changing unchang’d Antient of dayes,
          But doe not, with a vile crowne of fraile bayes,
          Reward my muses white sincerity,
          But what thy thorny crowne gain’d, that give mee,
          A crowne of Glory, which doth flower alwayes;
          The ends crowne our workes, but thou crown’st our ends,
          For, at our end begins our endlesse rest,
          The first last end, now zealously possest,
          With a strong sober thirst, my soule attends.
          ’Tis time that heart and voice be lifted high,
          Salvation to all that will is nigh.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter

~ Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
[Freely translated from a poem by Chinese poet Li Po {701-762}]

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
Played I about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
                            As far as the Cho-fu-Sa.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

~ E.E. Cummings * (1894-1962)

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

                                                                 i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The rose growing into the house

~ Gibbons Ruark (b. 1941)

Lately I think of my love for you and the rose
Growing into the house, springing up from under the eaves
And spiraling upward to pierce the chink in the corner
Where the walls come together to keep out everything,
Weather, Mongrel dogs, and the rose coming on like a thief.
But I mean to let it grow forever if it wants to,
For lately I think of my love for you and the rose invading the darkness,
And I long never to learn the difference.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Math update: What I've been reading the last month

Earlier I mentioned Paul Lockhart's essay, A Mathematician's Lament, and in my post Math and Philosophy, I mentioned reading Betrand Russell's speech, The Study of Mathematics.  I recommend both of those, especially the latter, if you're trying to understand why we should teach math, beyond the basics needed to function in modern life, or to pass standardized tests, or get into college.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Another article online I read -- and I highly recommend this one -- is called The Teaching of Arithmetic.  It's a three part series originally published in 1935 by a superintendent of a school district in New Hampshire in which he describes the deplorable condition of arithmetic and English in his schools, and how he improved both of those by eliminating formal arithmetic from the curriculum in five classrooms and replacing it with his "new Three R's" -- reading, reasoning, and recitation.  By "recitation" he meant the same thing Charlotte Mason meant by "narration."  The author says, "If I had my way, I would omit arithmetic from the first six grades.... The whole subject of arithmetic could be postponed until the seventh year of school, and it could be mastered in two years' study by any normal child."

This does not mean that the children were not taught any math at all.  They learned to count, to read numbers, to tell time, to understand and use money  They learned to use comparatives, such as more, less, half, and double.  They learned to measure distances and weights and so on, and were given lots of practice in estimation.  They learned skip-counting and multiplication and fractions.

In the first two grades, most of this work was done as it came up in class.  For example, reading numbers was learned "incidentally in connection with assignments of the reading lesson or with reference to certain pages of the text." The rest was taught by doing things, like counting money, or using a ruler or yardstick to measure things.

All of the problems they were given at this stage were done either mentally or using objects, and the answers were given orally.  Any problem "which cannot be solved without putting figures on paper or on the blackboard is too difficult and is deferred until the children are older."

The problems they solved were pretty complex.  He describes a test he gave a group of fourth and fifth graders involving a map and dates and distances, and the children were perfectly able to work out in their heads that Niagara Falls had first been discovered by Europeans 250 years earlier, that the falls had been retreating upstream at a rate of one mile every 500 years, and that it would take 10,000 years for the falls to retreat all the way to Buffalo.

That is exactly what I found most interesting about his method -- the way he taught his students to reason their way through problems.  In the other classrooms, the students would get hung up on which mathematical function they ought to be doing and would make things really hard on themselves and sometimes make it impossible to find the answer.

He describes their inability to do the map work mentioned above.  Here's another example.

I drew on the board a little diagram and spoke as follows: "Here is a wooden pole that is stuck in the mud at the bottom of a pond. There is some water above the mud and part of the pole sticks up into the air. One-half of the pole is in the mud; 2/3 of the rest is in the water; and one foot is sticking out into the air. Now, how long is the pole?"
First child: "You multiply 1/2 by 2/3 and then you add one foot to that."

Second child: "Add one foot and 2/3 and 1/2."

Third child: "Add the 2/3 and 1/2 first and then add the one foot."

Fourth: "Add all of them and see how long the pole is."

Next child: "One foot equals 1/3. Two thirds divided into 6 equals 3 times 2 equals 6. Six and 4 equals 10. Ten and 3 equals 13 feet."
You will note that not one child saw the essential point, that 1/2 the pole was buried in the mud and the other half of it was above the mud and that 1/3 of this half equaled one foot. Their only thought was to manipulate the numbers, hoping that somehow they would get the right answer.
He describes the lengthy conversation he had with this traditionally taught classroom, trying to get the children to reason their way through the problem.  When he gave this problem to his experimental classrooms the students saw the point immediately.

After trying this experiment successfully in a few classrooms, he convinced his principals to draw up a course of study for all their schools based on his ideas.  He describes this course clearly and it's detailed enough that it could serve as a scope and sequence for the home school, but it's a compromise position -- his principals insisted on introducing formal arithmetic in the sixth grade.  He mentions the textbook they used and describes which sections they taught and which they skipped or put off till the next semester or year.  He covers every grade from 1st to 8th.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

From our library I checked out a book called Mathematical Experiences for Young Children, by Louise Binder Scott and Jewell Garner.  While I was reading it, I started a new page, Commonplaces on Math, which is linked in the sidebar, so I could have a place to keep the things I would have underlined in the book if I owned it.  In fact, this book is almost wasted as a library book.  It's full of activities for teaching various concepts, so it's really practical, but it's the kind of thing you need to have on hand, unless you're the kind of creative, crafty mom who just needs a few examples and then can come up with plenty of ideas on your own.  I am not that mom.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Cremation of Sam McGee

~ Robert Service (1874-1958)

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam ’round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
“It’s the curs├Ęd cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ’tain’t being dead—it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate those last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows— O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the “Alice May.”
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked”; ... then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.

Friday, April 4, 2014

In defense of Poe's Sonnet to Science

The first time I read the poem I posted Tuesday, the second line, “Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes,” reminded me of a passage I’d read in C.S. Lewis’s book The Pilgrim’s Regress.  

This is going to be a long post.  May as well get a cup of coffee and settle in, but do please settle in and read it.  There really is a method to my madness, even if I don’t get around to connecting all the dots for you. :-D 

In the story, “John” has left his home in Puritania and his belief in a benevolent yet vengeful Landlord in order to travel to a beautiful island in the West that he has seen glimpses of.  In the course of his travels he has many adventures, as you’d expect from the Bunyan-inspired title of the book.

In Book Three, as he’s traveling through the dark country of Zeitgeistheim, “plodding westward through the dark and the rain, in great distress, because he was too tired to go on and too cold to stop,” the path comes to narrow cleft in the side of a mountain, where he is stopped and told he cannot pass. 

“Do you not know that all this country belongs to the Spirit of the Age?”

John apologizes and says he did not mean to trespass and that he would find another way around.

“You fool,” said the captain, “you are in his country now.  This pass is the way out of it, not the way into it.  He welcomes strangers.  His quarrel is with runaways.”

John is handed over to young Mr. Enlightenment, who drags him off to prison, which is situated under a mountain that looks more and more like a man the closer they get to it, until John realizes what the mountain really is.

And then in my nightmare I thought John become like a terrified child and put his hands over his eyes not to see the giant; but young Mr. Enlightenment tore his hands away and forced his face around and made him see the Spirit of the Age where it sat like one of the stone giants, the size of a mountain, with his eyes shut. Then Mr. Enlightenment opened a little door among the rocks and flung John into a pit made in the side of a hill, just opposite the giant, so that the giant could look into it through its gratings.

“He will open his eyes presently,” said Mr. Enlightenment.  Then he locked the door and left John in prison.

Now that the stage is set, here’s the part that Poe’s poem reminded me of:
Chapter Seven
Facing the Facts

John lay in his fetters all night in the cold and stench of the dungeon. And when morning came there was a little light at the grating, and, looking around, John saw that he had many fellow prisoners, of all sexes and ages. But instead of speaking to him, they all huddled away from the light and drew as far back into the pit, away from the grating, as they could. But John thought that if he could breathe a little fresh air he would be better, and he crawled up to the grating. But as soon as he looked out and saw the giant, it crushed the heart out of him: and even as he looked, the giant began to open his eyes and John, without knowing why he did it, shrank from the grating. Now I dreamed that the giant’s eyes had this property, that whatever they looked on became transparent. Consequently, when John looked around into the dungeon, he retreated from his fellow prisoners in terror, for the place seemed to be thronged with demons. A woman was seated near him, but he did not know it was a woman, because through the face, he saw the skull and through that the brains and the passages of the nose, and the larynx, and the saliva moving in the glands and the blood in the veins: and lower down the lungs panting like sponges, and the liver, and the intestines like a coil of snakes. And when he averted his eyes from her they fell on an old man, and this was worse for the old man had a cancer. And when John sat down and drooped his head, not to see the horrors, he saw only the working of his own inwards. Then I dreamed of all these creatures living in the hole under the giant’s eye for many days and nights. And John looked around on it all and suddenly he fell on his face and thrust his hands into his eyes and cried out, “It is the black hole. There may be no Landlord, but it is true about the black hole. I am mad. I am dead. I am in hell for ever.”

That’s the whole chapter.  John finally escapes from the prison but not after a lengthy ordeal, mostly centered around meal times. When the jailer brought in the food, he would set the dishes down and then talk to the prisoners:

If their meal was flesh he would remind them that they were eating corpses, or give them some account of the slaughtering: or, if it was the inwards of some beast, he would read them a lecture in anatomy and show the likeness of the mess to the same parts in themselves – which was the more easily done because the giant’s eyes were always staring into the dungeon at dinner time.

It gets worse – and it goes on for days.

Finally something happens that causes John to realize that this is all a deception.
Then I dreamed that one day there was nothing but milk for them, and the jailor said as he put down the pipkin:

“Our relations with the cow are not delicate – as you can easily see if you imagine eating ony of her other secretions.”

Now John had been in the pit a shorter time than any of the others: and at these words something seemed to snap in his head and he gave a great sigh and suddenly spoke out in a loud, clear voice:

“Thank heaven!  Now at last I know that you are talking nonsense.”

“What do you mean?” said the jailor, wheeling around upon him.

“You are trying to pretend that unlike things are like.  You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of thing as dung.”

“And pray, what difference is there except by custom?”

“Are you a liar or only a fool, that you see no difference between that which Nature casts out as refuse and that which she stores up as food?”

“So Nature is a person, then, with purposes and consciousness,” said the jailor with a sneer.  “In fact, a Landlady.  No doubt it comforts you to imagine you can believe that sort of thing”; and he turned to leave the prison with his nose in the air.*

“I know nothing about that,” shouted John after him.  “I am talking of what happens.  Milk does feed calves and dung does not.”

“Look here,” cried the jailor, coming back, “we have had enough of this.  It is high treason and I shall bring you before the Master.”

While he is before the Spirit of the Age, Reason rides up on a horse, poses three riddles, which the giant is unable to answer, and then slays him.  She then takes John on the next leg of his journey.

Science is a good thing when it keeps its place, but it’s been getting awfully uppity the last few centuries, and I can’t help but think that this is what Poe was objecting to in his sonnet.

And did you notice what it was that made John realize it was all a deception?  “You are trying to pretend that unlike things are like.”  The Spirit of the Age and his jailor were bad poets.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rain in Ohio

~ Mary Oliver (b. 1935)

The robin cries:  rain!
The crow calls:  plunder!

The blacksnake climbing
in the vines halts
his long ladder of muscle

while the thunderheads whirl up
out of the white west,

their dark hooves nicking
the tall trees as they come.

Rain, rain, rain! sings the robin
frantically, then flies for cover.

The crow hunches.
The blacksnake

pours himself swift and heavy
into the ground.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Most popular posts on poetry

In honor of National Poetry Month...

I get more hits for two poems I've posted in the past than for anything else I've ever posted -- the fun  Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast, by John Ciardi, and the delicate A Mongoloid Child Handling Shells on the Beach, by Richard Snyder.

In Time, Death, and Poetry, my most popular post about poetry, I compare Edward Lear's "Calico Pie" and Tennyson's "Break, Break, Break" and describe some conversations my special needs child and I have had, and mention how poetry gives us words to talk about what we're feeling.

My personal favorite is the series I did in April of 2008.  I posted a poem a day all month long.  I wish I could get the archives to arrange things from oldest to newest instead of the other way around, because they need to be read in the proper order, so if you click that link, go to the bottom of the next page and start with April 1.  That year I set myself a challenge:
1) Every poem had to be one I already knew and loved (with one exception I'll mention later);
2) Each poem had to connect in some way to the one that came before (style, theme, mood, author, contrast...);
3) Each Sunday's poem had to be a Psalm;
4) There had to be something special for St George's Day on the 23rd; and,
5) The one exception, Dana had challenged me to post something by a poet laureate from my home state, so I had to find something new that I could love and that would naturally follow the previous poem.

At the beginning of the month I'd already decided on the first three or four poems, but after that it was kind of an adventure, finding each new day's poem.

What is your favorite poem?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sonnet—To Science

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1949)

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
    Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
    Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
    Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
    Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
    And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
    Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?