Strong and content I travel the open road.
— excerpt from Song of the Open Road, Walt Whitman
Photo by Sandra Peterson Ramirez
— excerpt from Song of the Open Road, Walt Whitman
Photo by Sandra Peterson Ramirez
When life’s slings and arrows seem too many, and its happy fortunes too few, I usually bake a chocolate cake. But then again, nothing says comfort quite like hot buttery toast, does it? (I would bet a hundred bucks that no one brought up in the good ole USA can hear “nothin says lovin” without mentally responding “like somethin from the oven,” while picturing gooey cinnamon rolls, poppin’ fresh biscuits, rolls of chocolate chip cookie dough, and the giggly Pillsbury Dough Boy getting his belly poked. If you are not American, this may make no sense to you, but you can see what I mean here.)
We are taking a brief respite from our usual posts – fiction, poetry, personal essays, etc. – in order to bring you this recipe for a restorative treat, which promises to uplift both body and soul; unless you hate toast, but who hates toast? Or, I suppose you could be antipathetic to bananas, loathe avocados, and believe that capsicums are a fruit of the Devil. In that case, we cannot help you. You will have to seek succor elsewhere.
This recipe is my husband Robin’s sole contribution to the culinary arts, and it is worthy of its good name: Yum-Yum Breakfast Toast. Don’t let the timing of breakfast constrain you, as it is delicious for afternoon tea or an evening snack as well. The ingredients you will need are in bold.
Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft
And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.
From Collected Poems by Philip Larkin. Copyright © 1988, 2003 by the Estate of Philip Larkin.
And in the hanging gardens there is rain
From midnight until one, striking the leaves
And bells of flowers, and stroking boles of planes,
And drawing slow arpeggios over pools,
And stretching strings of sound from eaves to ferns.
The princess reads. The knave of diamonds sleeps.
The king is drunk, and flings a golden goblet
Down from the turret window (curtained with rain)
Into the lilacs.
And at one o’clock
The vulcan under the garden wakes and beats
The gong upon his anvil. Then the rain
Ceases, but gently ceases, dripping still,
And sound of falling water fills the dark
As leaves grow bold and upright, and as eaves
Part with water. The princess turns the page
Beside the candle, and between two braids
Of golden hair. And reads: ‘From there I went
Northward a journey of four days, and came
To a wild village in the hills, where none
Was living save the vulture and the rat,
And one old man, who laughed, but could not speak.
The roofs were fallen in; the well grown over
With weed; and it was there my father died.
Then eight days further, bearing slightly west,
The cold wind blowing sand against our faces,
The food tasting of sand. And as we stood
By the dry rock that marks the highest point
My brother said: “Not too late is it yet
To turn, remembering home.” And we were silent
Thinking of home.’ The princess shuts her eyes
And feels the tears forming beneath her eyelids
And opens them, and tears fall on the page.
The knave of diamonds in the darkened room
Throws off his covers, sleeps, and snores again.
The king goes slowly down the turret stairs
To find the goblet.
And at three o’clock
The moon inflames the lilac heads, and thrice
The vulcan, in his root-bound smithy, clangs
His anvil; and the sounds creep softly up
Among the vines and walls. The moon is round,
Round as a shield above the turret top.
The princess blows her candle out, and weeps
In the pale room, where the scent of lilac comes,
Weeping, with hands across her eyelids, thinking
Of withered grass, withered by sandy wind.
The knave of diamonds, in his darkened room,
Holds in his hands a key, and softly steps
Along the corridor, and slides the key
Into the door that guards her. Meanwhile, slowly,
The king, with raindrops on his beard and hands,
And dripping sleeves, climbs up the turret stairs,
Holding the goblet upright in one hand;
And pauses on the midmost step, to taste
One drop of wine, wherewith wild rain has mixed.
Conrad Aiken was one of America’s greatest poets, as well as a masterful prose writer. Here are six facts that may inspire your appreciation of Aiken and tempt you to learn more about him.
1. Though he described himself as a New England poet – having been reared and educated for most of his life in Massachusetts – he hailed from Savannah, Georgia, where he returned to live out his final years. Local legend has it that he wanted a marble bench by his graveside, as an invitation for visitors to stop there and enjoy a Martini. (Aiken is buried at the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah).
2. The marble bench is indeed there, and inscribed with two epitaphs of Aiken’s own choosing: “Give my love to the world” and “Cosmos Mariner – Destination Unknown.” In the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Aiken’s grave is where the author John Berendt shares a shaker of cold Martinis with Miss Harty.
Aiken’s parents are buried in a double grave next to his. Their deaths were the great tragedy of his young life, as the 11-year-old Conrad was the one who discovered their bodies after his father shot his mother and then turned the gun on himself. (Source: Bloom, Harold. The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer Through Frost. New York: 2004).
3. “Most of Aiken’s poetry reflects an intense interest in psychoanalysis and the development of identity. Of the many influences Aiken acknowledged, the writings of Freud, William James, Edgar Allan Poe, and the French Symbolists are most evident in his work. The forms and sounds of music pervade all of Aiken’s highly introspective poetry …” (Source: Poets.org).
4. Kate Bernadette Benedict, a talented modern poet, has a page about Aiken on her website, which she opens with this (abridged) paragraph: “No poet of the 20th Century fascinates me more than Conrad Aiken (1889-1973) whose poetry I would describe as imagistic, enigmatic, penetrating, lush, and not a little Gothic … In orderly sitting rooms, his characters encounter chaos; they fall into other dimensions or the chasm of their own selves. It is all very slippery. These poems are the product of an original and a fearless mind.” (Link to page).
5. As editor of Emily Dickinson’s Selected Poems (1924), Aiken was largely responsible for establishing her posthumous literary reputation. He considered Dickinson to be a very fine poet, calling her work “perhaps the finest poetry by a woman in the English language.” (Of course, he might have left out qualifying the compliment with “woman.” Dickinson is considered a master among poets of either gender, challenged only by Whitman as the greatest of the American poets of the 20th century, according to Harold Bloom.)
6. He is the father of the author Joan Aikens, who wrote The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
This week, we are beginning a new category of posts, featuring some of our favourite poets and poems. We will add to the series randomly, as we discover or remember poems we wish to include. Sometimes, we will share a few interesting facts about the poet, but if the poet is still widely read today, we will skip the fact-sharing and simply post the poem on its own.
The choices we make will be based purely on our belief in the aesthetic value of the poetry itself, rather than on any social, political, or other “extra-poetic” (as Harold Bloom would say) factors.
We hope you enjoy the poems as much as we do.
Christmas by Michael Leunig I see a twinkle in your eye, so this shall be my Christmas star and I will travel to your heart: the manger where the real things are. And I will find a mother there who holds you gently to her breast, a father to protect your peace, and by these things you shall be blessed. And you will always be reborn and I will always see the star and make the journey to your heart: the manger where the real things are. From Poems, 1972-2001
For me persimmons have always been a marker, a sign that it’s finally Fall. There are two persimmon trees on my parent’s farm and, growing up, I loved their short-lived fruit. Like blackberries in the Spring, the fruit seemed to appear overnight, take forever to ripen, and then disappear just as quickly, rotting in the sun or picked away by animals. But there was a moment of luscious, juicy fruit. And that moment was when the relentless Texas Summer had finally softened, when school had been dragging on for months, when Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were in sight.
We have just enjoyed a long Easter weekend, followed by ANZAC Day here in Australia, so blogging has had to wait. This has worked out well, as it has given me a few days to sort out my ideas, and to take some photographs.
Before today, I had been struggling with what I wanted to say and to whom I wanted to say it. Realistically, this is a non-issue because, as far as I can tell, Sandra and I are the only people in the world currently reading our blog; nevertheless, it is available to the public so there is always a chance that strangers might come across it and we would want them to enjoy their stay.
But I cannot orient myself to writing for some hypothetical others that may eventually form our readership. So for now, I write these posts as letters to only one person and that is my best friend, Sandra, who started this blog back in 2008. Since she lives on the other side of the world from me, we cannot meet up at Starbucks for a chat and a cappuccino, but we can meet here, and share our lives with each other.
We are happy to have friendly visitors join us from anywhere in the Universe. So, for Sandra and any strangers or extraterrestrials out there who stumble across / crash into our blog here’s my Post-Easter Weekend Show & Tell …