‘”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.

 

“It Couldn’t Be Done”

BLOG #16, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
“IT COULDN’T BE DONE”
April 22, 2015

I’ve long been fascinated by stories having to do with this abstraction we call “success.” Just what is it that separates the successes from the failures in life? Thousands of books promising success to those who will buy and read them vie for our attention on bookstore shelves. And success remains one of the most turned-to categories in quotation books.

Each issue of Success magazine is redolent with articles, interviews, and bios geared to readers who are searching for success in their lives.

But is it possible that readers can get so inundated by torrents of success-related hype that they miss the great simple truths that, if internalized, could make all the difference in the world? The sober reality is that all the advice in the world won’t work if the advisee doesn’t.

I’ve long been intrigued by studies that confirm one reality in America today: four-point straight A students usually end up working for B-/C+ students. The former all-too-often being all theory and the latter being persistent pluggers who doggedly slog through obstruction after obstruction en route to eventual success. In reality, grade-point average is a lousy indicator of life-success.

Edward A. Guest (1881 – 1959), though born in England, achieved his fame in America. In 1899, Guest, exchange editor of the Detroit Free Press, began writing daily columns, the chief feature being homespun family-friendly poetry. By 1916, these poems were being syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the nation. Thanks to daily and weekly syndication, weekly radio programs, royalties on books and greeting cards, movie rights, Guest became the highest paid poet in America. His work dominated the first half of the twentieth century.

Elocutionists such as my beloved mother memorized and performed Guest’s most popular poems before audiences large and small across the nation.

One of his most popular, and most widely anthologized poems, was this one – still alive a hundred years later (my mother performed it often):

IT COULDN’T BE DONE

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Included in Guest’s book, The Path to Home (Chicago: Reilly & Lee Company, 1919). Original text owned by Joe Wheeler.

POEMS I HAVE LOVED IN LIFE – “A SONG OF LIVING”

BLOG #20, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
POEMS I’VE LOVED IN LIFE #4
“A SONG OF LIVING”
May 15, 2013

No small thanks to my dearly beloved mother, a master of elocution, short stories, readings, and poetry, in both her public and private performances, I grew up with a great love of poetry, (other than quotations, the most succinct and condensed form of knowledge and insight transferal we know).

Three times before, I constructed foundation blocks under this new series with Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted” (July 28, 2010); Tennyson’s Enoch Arden (May 9, 2012); and Tennyson’s “Ulysses (May 16, 2012). On these three, I launch my new series of blogs centered on some of the poems I’ve loved most in life.

Like most of our blogs, something triggered this particular blog. As is true with most of us, I’ve generally lived each day with a rather cavalier disregard for death: Oh, someday, far off in the mists of time, it may happen to me . . . but not soon. Well, for us the trigger turned out to be the sideswiping of our rental car by a large tour bus on the Monterey coast only two weeks ago. Our lives were spared, but only by inches: only a few inches to the right and all four of us would have been splattered on California’s Coastal Highway 1.

Needless to say, that close call was a stark reminder of just how fragile this thin thread we call “life” really is.

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Only once in our 80 books have I anthologized very many poems. In Tears of Joy for Mothers [we celebrated another Mother’s Day just last Sunday], in a tribute to my mother, Barbara Leininger Wheeler, I wrote a long introduction titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” in which I assembled for the first time all of the poems of the home my mother loved and recited most. In retrospect, it seems to her three children that she had in her arsenal a poem for every kind of child misbehavior there exists—and, because we were a perverse threesome, she needed them all! Very few of Mother’s poems exist in poetry anthologies, mainly because they were folk poems that were recited by elocutionists from generation to generation without ever gracing the more formal genre of book collections.

Late in life [I was privileged to experience one of them], my mother and father (he, with music) put on memorable programs titled “From the Cradle to the Grave,” celebrations of life, in all its multidimensionality with audiences large and small. I can hear her marvelous poetic lines as I write these words, and my eyes mist over—for I never then realized I was hearing her poetic declarations for the last time.

Always, in these programs, she concluded with what had become, over the years, her life’s signature poem, “A Song of Living” [I’ve never found out who wrote it]. She first recited it in public at the age of fourteen in a high school elocutionary contest. At college, it was while hearing her recite it for a program that my father first set eyes on her. By the time she’d finished, he’d fallen in love with her.

Here are the words:

Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have sent up my gladness on wings to be lost in the blue of the sky,
I have run and leaped with the rain, I have taken the wind to my breast.
My cheek like a drowsy child to the face of the earth I have pressed
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

I have kissed young love on the lips, I have heard his song to the end.
I have struck my hand like a seal, in the loyal hand of a friend,
I have known the peace of Heaven, the comfort of work done well.
I have longed for death in the darkness and risen alive out of Hell.
Because I have loved life, I have no sorrow to die.

I give a share of my soul to the world where my course is run.
I know that another shall finish the task that I leave undone.
I know that no flower, no flint, was in vain on the path I trod.
As one looks on a face through a window, through life, I have looked on God.
Because I have loved life, I shall have no sorrow to die.

Included in my anthology of motherhood stories, Tears of Joy for Mothers (Nashville: W Publishing Group/Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006). $13.99. Though out of print, we still have copies available. You can reach me at my email: mountainauthor@gmail.com.