A COLLECTION OF BOOKISH THOUGHTS

sharing my love of books with you

The Children’s Hour, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And the voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
in his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

("The Children's Hour", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Selected Poems, 1988)

Royal Aristocrat, by Billy Collins

My old typewriter used to make so much noise
I had to put a cushion of newspaper
beneath it late at night
so as not to wake the whole house.

Even if I closed the study door
and typed a few words at a time -
the best way to work anyway -
the clatter of keys was still so loud

that the gray and yellow bird
would wince in its cage.
Some nights I could even see the moon
frowning down through the winter trees.

That was twenty years ago,
yet as I write this with my soft lead pencil
I can still hear that distinctive sound,
like small arms fire across a border,

one burst after another
as my wife turned in her sleep.
I was a single monkey
trying to type the opening lines of my Hamlet,

often doing nothing more
than ironing pieces of paper in the platen
then wrinkling them into balls
to flick into the wicker basket.

Still, at least I was making noise,
adding to the great secretarial din,
that chorus of clacking and bells,
thousands of desks into the past.

And that was more than can be said
for the mute rooms of furniture,
the speechless salt and pepper shakers,
and the tall silent hedges surrounding the house.

Such deep silence on those nights -
just the sound of my typing
and a few stars singing a song their mother
sang when they were babies in the sky.

("Royal Aristocrat", Billy Collins, in Nine Horses, 2002)

I am adding this poem because I especially like the line “Still, at least I was making noise”. This “making noise” – adding words to words to form a poem, then adding poem to poem to form a book – this is the noise I wish to be a part of too. And so, on my computer instead of a typewriter, I will make my noise in hopes of having a book of my own one day.

Aimless Love, by Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor's window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door -
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor -
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

("Aimless Love", Billy Collins, in Nine Horses, 2002)

Seaweed, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When descends on the Atlantic
The gigantic
Storm-wind of the equinox,
Landward in his wrath he scourges
The toiling surges,
Laden with seaweed from the rocks:

From Bermuda's reefs; from edges
Of sunken ledges,
In some far-off, bright Azore;
From Bahama, and the dashing,
Silver-flashing
Surges of San Salvador;

From the tumbling surf, that buries
The Orkneyan skerries,
Answering the hoarse Hebrides;
And from wrecks of ships drifting
Spars, uplifting
On the desolate, rainy seas; -

Ever drifting, drifting, drifting,
On the shifting
Currents of the restless main;
Till in sheltered coves, and reaches
Of sandy beaches,
All have found repose again.

So when storms of wild emotion
Strike the ocean
Of the poet's soul, ere long
From each cave and rocky fastness,
in its vastness,
Floats some fragment of a song:

From the far-off isles enchanted,
Heaven has planted
With the golden fruit of Truth;
From the flashing surf, whose vision
Gleams Elysian
In the tropic clime of Youth;

From the song Will, and the Endeavor
That forever
Wrestle with the tides of Fate;
From the wreck of Hopes far-scattered,
Tempest-Shattered,
Floating wast and desolate; -

Ever drifting, drifting, drifting
On the shifting
Currents of the restless heart;
Till at length in books recorded,
They, like hoarded
Household words, no more depart.

("Seaweed", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Selected Poems, 1988)

Mezzo Cammin, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Half of my life is gone, and I have let
The years slip by form me and have not fulfilled
The aspiration of my youth, to build
Some tower of song with lofty parapet.
Not indolence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
Of restless passions that would not be stilled,
But sorry, and a care that almost killed,
Kept me from what I may accomplish yet;
Though, halfway up the hill, I see the Past
Lying beneath me with its sounds and sights, -
A city in the twilight dim and vast,
With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights, -
And hear above me on the autumnal blast
The cataract of Death far thundering from the heights.

("Mezzo Cammin", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Selected Poems, 1988)

Mezzo Cammin footnote: Written at the age of thirty-five – half the life span allotted to humankind in the Bible – while on the verge of leaving Europe for home. The title is taken from the opening line of Dante’s Inferno: “Midway in the journey of our life.”

The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a thrashing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Toiling, - rejoicing, - sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

("The Village Blacksmith", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Selected Poems, 1988)

Bivouac

Bivouac – the guard or watch of a whole army, as incases of great danger of surprise or attack

“In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like the dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Psalm of Life

A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

WHAT THE HEART OF THE YOUNG MAN SAID TO THE PSALMIST

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! - 
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real!  Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal; 
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Sill, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like the dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, - act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

("Psalm of Life", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Selected Poems, 1988)

Pelf

Pelf – money; riches; but it often conveys the idea of something ill gotten or worthless

“The writer of this legend then records

Its ghostly application in these words:

The image is the Adversary old,

Whose beckoning finger points to realms of gold,

Our lusts and passions are the downward air;

The archer, Death; the flaming jewel, Life;

Terrestrial goods, the goblet and the knife;

The knights and ladies, all whose flesh and bone

By avarice have been hardened into stone;

The clerk, the scholar whom the love of pelf

Temps from his books and from his nobler self.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Morituri Salutamus

Death the Consoler

“And, as she looked around, she saw how Death, the consoler,

Laying his hand upon many a heart, had healed it forever.”

Henry Waldsworth Longfellow, Evangeline
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