‘”THE HIGHWAYMAN”

BLOG #24, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE

ALFRED NOYES’ “THE HIGHWAYMAN”
June 24, 2015

Wisdom, in whatever form it’s packaged, has always fascinated me. The most condensed form of wisdom is a quotation, which we discussed last week. Second only to quotations are poetry, in terms of the words required to compress wisdom into so few lines. Next would come essays and short stories.

As those of you know who own my book, Tears of Joy for Mothers, my introduction was titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” a dual heirloom which I was lucky enough to inherit. My mother was a professional elocutionist, a stage performer whose control of audiences—be it for short stories, readings, or poetry—was absolute. I grew up listening to the rhythm of her voice. She bequeathed to me two great gifts: an enduring love for short stories, and an equally enduring love for poetry.

In earlier times, the reciting of poetry was a staple in schools, civic functions, and churches everywhere. Today, poetry has been all but snuffed out by a vacuous media. Ted Koppel put it best in these two lines:

“Almost everything said in public today is recorded;
Almost nothing said in public today is worth remembering.”

So little of enduring value in today’s televised yada-yada.

In my classes, I found boys and young men to be the most resistant to poetry. That is, until I showed them how brutally honest and searing great poetry can be. Result: many went on to put together scrapbooks composed of their favorite poems.

Though I don’t currently have a Dr. Joe’s Poem of the Month Club, I have blogged quite a few of my favorite poems. Here they are so far:

1. “Love Comes Not the Same” – Joe Wheeler – (Feb. 10, 2010)
2. “The Child Is Father of the Man” – William Wordsworth – (March 31, 2010)
3. “The Other Side of Pomp and Circumstance” – Joe Wheeler – (May 12, 2010)
4. “The Clock of Life” – Author Unknown – (May 19, 2010)
5. “Outwitted” – Edwin Markham – July 28, 2010)
6. “Days” – Emerson – (March 16, 2011)
7. “October Song” – Joe Wheeler – (Oct. 5, 2011)
8. “Enoch Arden” – Tennyson – (May 2, 2012)
9. “Ulysses” – “Tennyson – (May 9, 2012)
10. “The Mill” – Edwin Arlington Robinson – (Aug. 1, 2012)
11. “A Song of Living” – Author Unknown – (May 15, 2013)
12. “First Settler’s Story” – Will Carleton – (June 24, 2013)
13. “Where Does Morning Come From?” – Emily Dickinson – (March 19, 2014)
14. “And I Learned About Women from Her?” – Kipling – Oct. 8, 2014)
15. “I Am” – Helen Mallicoat – (Dec. 31, 2014)
16. “Wisdom” – Edgar Guest – (March 4, 2015)
17. “It Couldn’t Be Done” – Edgar Guest – (April 22, 2015)

So . . . , I have a question to ask of you: Would you like me to make a regular thingn of poems I’ve loved in life? Are you one of those who’d like to collect them if I did? If you are, please respond right away!

Meanwhile, over the next several weeks, I’m going to share a couple more of my favorites with you.

You can contact me at: mountainauthor@gmail.com. Or message me on Facebook.

Stay tuned.

 

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POEMS I HAVE LOVED IN LIFE #18

BLOG #25, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE #18
June 24, 2015

Alfred Noyes (1880 – 1958), though born in England, later moved to America, where he was Professor of English at Princeton (1914 – 1923). A prolific writer, he is best known for his The Loom of Years (1902), Poems, (1904), Forty Singing Seamen (1907), Tales of the Mermaid Tavern, and Forest of Wild Thyme (1905).

But out of all the works he ever wrote, it is The Highwayman that has given him immortality. My mother loved it, knew it by heart, and often performed it. One of the fascinating poetry genre we call “story poems,” it has an irresistible beat to it.

It is a poem to be recited to an audience—be sure and include children and teenagers—on a dark and stormy night. Turn the lights down low, or out completely. The more ghostly the setting the better!

Once heard, it can never be forgotten—especially if recited or performed by elocutionists like my mother. I’ve loved it ever since I first heard my mother perform it when I was young. If this was what poetry was—I wanted more of it!

THE HIGHWAYMAN
PART ONE
I

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

II

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle
His pistol butts a-twinkle
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

III

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

IV

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

V

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,.
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

VI

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair I’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(Oh, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.

PART TWO
I

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon,
When the road was a gipsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
Marching—marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

II

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

III

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
“Now keep good watch!” and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
                Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

IV

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

V

The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain.

VI

               Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

VII

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,.
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

VIII

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

IX

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

X

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
                Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

XI

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
                Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

A. E. Houseman’s “Is My Team Ploughing?”

BLOG #26, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE #19
A. E. HOUSEMAN’S “IS MY TEAM PLOUGHING?”
July 1, 2015

A. E. Houseman (1859 – 1936), is considered to be one of the greatest classical scholars of his age, having taught at London’s University College and at Cambridge University. He had the ability to strip his verse down to the very bone. In his story collection, A Shropshire Lad, there is a pervading mood of pessimism. Of it, Louis Undermeyer observes that “Nature is not kind; lovers are untrue; men cheat and girls betray; lads, though lightfoot, drink and die; an occasional drum calls to a conflict without reason, a struggle without hope. Nevertheless, courage is dominant.”

I have found Houseman’s poetry to especially appeal to college-age males, for society has edged many of them into a pessimistic outlook on life. Yet, having said that, Houseman’s sometimes sarcastic sense of humor resonates well with a generation that finds it hard to be idealistic. But Houseman also reminds his readers that life has a way of going on, whether we’re there or not. Thomas Hardy considered “Is My Team Ploughing” to be one of the most dramatic short poems in the English language.

The look on the faces of college students, especially males, who are slowly digesting the poem as I read it, when I come to the concluding lines and they realize just who the friend is . . . is absolutely priceless.

It’s a poem that would have seemed even more relevant to opeople who grew up in a rural agricultural area where, in pre-industrial days, one plowed with a team of horses rather than a tractor. The speaker, now ostensibly dead, poses four questions to his friend, each one hitting closer to home than the previous one. At the end, many the young listener grins ruefully but admiringly as he realizes how brilliantly he’s been set up.

IS MY TEAM PLOUGHING

“Is my team ploughing,
That I used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?”

Aye, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

“Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?”?

Aye, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

“Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?”

Aye, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.

“Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine;
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?”

Aye, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart.
Never ask me whose.

DO YOU LIKE DAY-BRIGHTENERS?

BLOG #23, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DO YOU LIKE DAY-BRIGHTENERS?
June 10, 2015

Well I do. I’m referring to a staple in my life for a very long time, a daily quotation to set my sails for the day. Over the years, I’ve gathered together well over a million of them to draw from. During my 34 years in the classroom, it was what I’d do: first thing of every day, write a day-brightening quotation on the blackboard. I put a lot of thought into them because I knew it was the first thing my students looked at when they came to class. And it was because so many wrote down their favorite ones and kept them down through the years, that I responded to their pleas to “Please, do it again! I miss them,” and began tweeting a quotation each day back in 2011.

Remembering how boring quotes can become if they are too similar to each other, too saccharine, too same ol’ same ol’, too pious, too preachy, too serious, too light, too old, too new, I’ve always done my best to mix them so that those who read them each day will know there’s no sameness; and that I mix in humor with the thought-provoking; and that my personal reading mixes in the contemporary with the old.

Several days ago, my agent, Greg Johnson, checked up on me, asking me how many people read our tweets each day and blogs each week. I didn’t know—in fact, it had been years since I’d last checked on such numbers. Mainly because I felt that if I did my utmost to make each entry the very best I could, a Higher Power would take care of the numbers. Furthermore, that if bloggers and tweeters felt blessed, informed, entertained, enlightened, etc., by them, they’d share them with their friends and relatives and suggest to them that they also become regulars. I just assumed the numbers would be somewhat similar; thus imagine my surprise to discover that there were almost nine times more blog-readers than tweet-readers! I’d mistakenly assumed that most people would want to read both.

I’ve now been tweeting quotations for 1350 days as of today; and have a request to make of all you bloggers who haven’t yet checked out the daily tweets. It would mean a great deal to me if you’d just give it a try for a week or so, and let me know whether or not you like them. I’m making this request not because my ego needs such affirmation, but because I so much would like to share them with you each day.

Just to give you a feel for what they’re like, I’m attaching all of the May 2015 tweets. I do hope you like them. And if you already read them each day—thank you for being part of my life! On the other hand, if you have not,  just go to http://www.twitter.com/JoeWheelerBooks.com – and sign up – and enjoy!

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Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”

BLOG #22, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #41
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT’S LITTLE WOMEN
June 3, 2015

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Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888), was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and ended her days in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother, Abigail [Abba] May, was born into one of America’s most famous families, in direct line from Samuel Sewall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. Her father, Col. Joseph May, was one of Boston’s leading merchants. Between the Sewalls and the Mays, Abba was related to almost anybody who was anybody in the state—including the Greeles, the Frothinghams, and the Quincys; in fact, her great aunt, Dorothy Quincy Scott, had been John Hancock’s wife. And then there was that mystical improvident visionary named Bronson Alcott who, in terms of educational philosophy, was way ahead of his time, choosing to rule his students by love rather than by punishments. Not surprisingly life with him was one long financial struggle for Abba (in 28 years, they’d move 27 times). Yet she loved him, and would marry no other.

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Out of that union came eight children, four who survived into adulthood. The oldest was Anna; Louisa May, second; Elizabeth Sewall, third; and Abba May, fourth. Bronson homeschooled them all. Each of his children was expected to spread her wings, dare to fly with the eagles.

Always, Louisa had wanted to be a writer. She wrote Flower Fables (1854-55) when she was only sixteen. She would write prolifically all her life; she felt she had to because making a living was not her father’s strong suit. For some time, almost in desperation, she wrote melodramatic trash in order to bring in money. Her first successful book was Hospital Sketches (1863) about her experiences as a nurse during the Civil War. While serving in Washington, D.C., under horrendous conditions, she contracted typhoid, and suffered after-effects from it for the rest of her life.

The books she is most remembered for, however, are the following: Moods (1865), Little Women (1868-1869), An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870), Little Men (1871), Eight Cousins (1875), Rose in Bloom (1876), Under the Lilacs (1878), Jack and Jill (1881), and Jo’s Boys (1886).

But the masterpiece, of course, was Little Women

THE CONTINUING APPEAL OF LITTLE WOMEN.

All my life, I have loved the book Little Women. As a child, I was captivated by the tale itself. Like millions of readers everywhere, I fell in love with the March family—especially Jo—to such an extent that long before I realized it, the Marches had become almost as much a part of me as my own flesh and blood.

Years later, I read the book again, with more than a little apprehension, for so many books we first read as children end up disappointing us when we come back to them as adults. Not to worry! Little Women is a seemingly bottomless well, and the older one gets, and the more times one rereads it, the deeper and more profound the story becomes.

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Why that is so has puzzled me for many years. Each year that I assigned Little Women to undergraduates in my American Literature classes, I’d wonder: Will it hold up this time? Will this new class, a century and a quarter after the story was written, find it irrelevant or passé? Will the men turn up their collective noses at it? In this age of women’s lib, will the women find it too simplistic and stereotypical?

But each year, it was the same: I’d walk into the classroom the next class period after my exhaustive who-said-what-to-whom-about-whom tests (the only Cliffs Notes-proof tests I’ve ever devised), seat myself in the circle (all my classes are circles), and look around at the faces. It never failed—once class began, the room crackled! So intense were the discussions that sometimes it seemed like everyone in the room was talking at once, male as well as female. Needless to say, nothing would ratchet up the intensity level more than the relationship between Jo and Laurie—especially, whether or not Jo should have married Laurie instead of Mr. Bhaer.
–From my Introduction to Little Women (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 1997).

* * * * *

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You can find it anywhere for it is undoubtedly one of the most-loved and most-read books ever published in America. But naturally, I hope you’ll consider securing one of mine. I wrote a modest biography of Alcott at the front, a bibliography of all her writings at the back, and also Discussion Questions at the back as well. But our edition has something else: I was able to track down Frank T. Merrill’s stunning 203 woodcuts for the 1880 edition. Merrill actually read the book before he created each one! I know, for I’ve seen Louisa May Alcott’s personal inscriptions on the backs! That 1880 edition is one of the rarest of all Alcott books–I’ve seen only two in my lifetime. And all 203 Merriill woodcuts are in my edition. Which, of course, makes our Focus/Tyndale edition a rarity too.

As well as a number of shorter works, including many story anthologies and pessimistic last books.

My edition: Large trade paper – $16.99; the large hardback – $19.99, plus shipping of $6.00. And add 5% tax if you live in Colorado.

Send me an email at: mountainauthor@gmail.com; or write me at P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.