‘”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.

 

WHERE DOES “MORNING” COME FROM?

BLOG #12, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHERE DOES “MORNING” COME FROM?
March 19, 2014

Some people never lose their childlike sense of wonder. Elizabeth Goudge, one of my favorite English writers, never lost the ability to think as a child, no matter how old she got.

Just so, Emily Dickinson, America’s greatest poetess, enchants us still, well over a hundred years later, because she never lost that trait.

Have you ever wondered how you’d respond to a child’s queries about something as prosaic as mornings?

Following is Dickinson’s try at it:

MORNING

“Will there really be a morning?
Is there such a thing as day?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like water-lilies?
Has it feathers like a bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I never heard?

Oh, some scholar! Oh, some sailor!
Oh, some wise man from the skies!
Please to tell a little pilgrim
Where the place called morning lies!”

–“Morning,” published in
St. Nicholas, May 1891

Published in: on March 19, 2014 at 5:00 am  Comments (3)  
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THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN HERO – PART TWO

BLOG #8, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE DECLINE AND THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN HERO
Part Two
February 20, 2013

ADULATION

Last week, I wrote about the leveling process of perceived greatness that is societally generated. Now, let’s turn to two other factors: adulation and inner erosion.

On April 5, 1887, Lord Acton famously postulated in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” By extension, we might also conclude that adulation tends to destroy and excessive adulation destroys completely.

Few things in this journey we call life are more destructive than adulation—or more difficult to remain impervious to. One has to be almost superhuman to resist it for long. In the newspapers recently was a column that addressed this issue: the subject being an obsequious interview of retiring Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and President Obama (perhaps the most powerful person in the world today, and Clinton, the person second in line to succeed him in case of death or incapacitation). The writer of the column felt that the interview imploded once it degenerated into fawning by the outgoing Secretary of State. Clinton perhaps didn’t realize at the time that there is a fine line between respect for the office of the President and obsequious overkill.

But who of us has not been guilty of the same sort of thing in our own interactions with those who are powerful and can, by a word or an act, strengthen or weaken our standing in the eyes of our peers? Nevertheless, just think of the impact of such adulation on the recipient—especially when such behavior is replicated in others, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Could you remain unchanged were you the recipient of it? Could I?

Yesterday, a similar situation occurred on Fox Television when famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson of Johns Hopkins was “interviewed” in what turned out to be an overkill of adulation both by the interviewer and by the studio audience of VIPs. I’m not denying that Dr, Carson isn’t worthy of such obsequiousness, I’m just wondering what the effect was on him. And, as a sidebar, I wondered if I could have resisted it.

Where all this is leading to, I’m sure you’ve already figured out: the impact of continual—not just national but international—adulation on perceived superheroes such as Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. Were they truly noble, how long could they have held out against it?

INNER-EROSION

But the third leveling factor is by far the most significant of the three (deconstructing, adulation, and inner-erosion). Inner-erosion is insidious in that it tends to destroy the victim of it from inside, thus the person infected by this virus all too often remains unaware of what’s happening within. And since we all tend to view our actions through rose-tinted-glasses, it is very difficult for any of us to be objective about our own inter-deterioration. History—and Scripture—are full of prototypes of such inner-erosion. Just look at Saul, David, and Solomon (all three devoured from within by inner-erosion). Look at Nebuchadnezzer (“Is not this great Babylon that I have built?”); Napoleon, Henry VIII, Lord Byron, Louis XIV, Benedict Arnold, Richard Nixon—the list is endless.

America’s greatest poetess, Emily Dickinson, likens this inner-erosion to a work of art, a perfect piece of sculpture, that, ever so slowly (so gradually that the process is almost impossible to see with the naked eye) is chipped away in tiny almost invisible fragments—until, one fateful day, all the world can see is a ruined work of art.

Both Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong eroded from within, over long periods of time. The very first time each was false to what he knew was right was a first chip. The first time Lance doped in order to win was a chip, and then came chip, chip, chip, and chip. And to avoid losing his perceived cycling supremacy, the first time he viciously turned on, and sued, associates who dared to tell the truth about what it was that made all those Yellow Jersey victories possible—another chip and then, of course, a long succession of such chips. And then there it was for all the world to see: a ruined work of art.

* * * * *

But having said all this, who am I to cast the first stone? When I take off my own rose-tinted classes and look at my own journey, I see so many mistakes, so many failures, so many sins, that I would despair were it not for the good Lord, who in His great divine mercy, stoops down each time to help me get off the floor, forgives me once again, and encourages me to try harder to be true to the better self in me, next time—and next time.

JOURNALING AND OUR BOOK CLUB

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

JOURNALING AND OUR BOOK CLUB

Nov. 2, 2011

There are, in each of our lives, certain days that prove pivotal in our journeys.  One such day had to do with a lecture of the top information literary specialist in America to the faculty of Columbia Union College.  Looking around at us, college professors from many disciplines, she asked us a simple question: “Let’s say you gave your students an examination earlier today.  Then, a week from today – completely unannounced -, you give them the same exam.  How much of what they knew today . . . will they remember a week from now?”

None of us even came close to the correct answer.  “Your top student,” she pointed out, your four-pointer, will remember a week from today, at most, 17%!  Most will remember far less – and it will be all down hill from there.”  I’ve never taught a class the same way since.  For if the most brilliant student in the college forgets at least 83% in one week, what pitiful retention rate does that imply for the rest of the class?  Hence the preposterous exercise in futility of end-of-the-semester exams three and a half months later!

As for thoughts, rarely do they come when you most want them to.  In fact, many insidiously come to us just as we’re drifting off to sleep.  Have you ever thought, What a beautiful thought!  Can’t believe I came up with it.  In the morning, ho hum, I’ll write it down . . . I’m far too comfy to get up now.

And in the morning, what do we remember? Not much.  Chances are, we won’t even remember what the thought was about.  If it does come to us, it will be in such muddled shape it won’t even be worth writing down, for thoughts only ring their golden bells once in life.  Another put it this way: “God only gives you a great thought once.”

One of England’s great writers, Matthew Arnold, in his poignant poem, “Despondency,” described this phenomenon in eight lines:

“The thoughts that rain their steady glow

Like stars on life’s cold sea,

Which others know or say they know –

They never shine for me.

Thoughts light, like gleams, my spirit’s sky

But they will not remain;

They light me once, they hurry by,

And never come again.”

America’s greatest poetess, Emily Dickinson, took the same number of lines to express her own frustration:

1452

“Your thoughts don’t have words every day

They come a single time

Like signal esoteric sips

Of the communion wine

Which while you taste so native seems

So easy so to be

You cannot comprehend its price

Nor its infrequency.”

You no doubt noticed certain words in Dickinson’s poem that are a bit archaic today.  Unless you keep by your side a full-sized Webster’s Collegiate dictionary (or equivalent on-line), you’d miss key portions of Dickinson’s meaning (especially when trying to understand what Dickinson meant by words such as “signal,” “esoteric,” “native,” “easy so to be,” etc).  It is no exaggeration to declare that unless each of us not only has, but uses, such a source, we will unquestionably cripple our ability to understand what we read.  Really serious readers also access an unabridged dictionary, and for archaic words the monumental Oxford Unabridged.

SO WHY JOURNAL?

Some years ago I had in one of my Freshman Composition classes a second-generation student (I’d taught her father in high school a generation before).  She asked me one day if I’d had my students journal in my classes when her father was in my English classes.  Her face fell when I answered in the negative.  She then added, “Oh it’s sad because Dad and I aren’t getting along very well—he’s just an authority figure rather than a father.  I just thought if I could read journal entries written by Dad when he was young like me, perhaps we could meet in our journal entries.”

Up until that time, I’d never really given much thought to journals as vehicles to freeze our thoughts into time periods.  Since then I’ve discovered that a number of renowned writers have capitalized on that reality to find out how they thought when they were much younger, or described people, places, experiences immediately after they took place.  I’ve ruefully discovered that while my writing has greater depth and breadth now than it used to have, I’ve lost the ability to think and articulate as a 50-year-old, a college student, a high school student, or a child.  This is a major reason why journal entries penned at each stage of our lives are so significant.

As for travel, travel writers will tell you that, in visiting places for the very first time, you have only moments in which to jot down those first impressions.  When you first arrive, everything jars, for everything is new.  Each sensory impression has an echo: a flashback to its counterpart back home.  But by the next day, sensory impressions are already blurring—you are no longer sure what is new and different and what is not.

Several days ago, on a Southwestern Airlines plane, I was privileged to sit next to a delightful young couple.  We got into a far-ranging discussion of books (e-books versus paper) and quotations.  They were most interested in my daily quotation tweets, for both seek out memorable quotes in their daily reading.  In truth, had I not many years ago begun writing down in the back of my journals the most memorable quotations from my reading, I’d not have near the vast repository of memorable quotations I draw from today.  We use quotations in so many ways in our lives (family, school, church, public speaking, writing).  I also paste in poetry at the back of my journals.

But the same is true with vivid metaphors and similes.  These too I write down in the back of my journals.  For such figurative language reveals to us how much more vivid and fresh our spoken and written communication can be if we avoid hackneyed words and cliches.

Then there are powerful beginnings and endings (in both short stories and longer works).  For unless a beginning sentence or paragraph sucks us into the story, article, or book, why write something no one will remain interested in beyond the first page?  This is a key reason why, when I find such a riveting passage, I write it down at the back of my journals.  The same is true of endings.  All too many writers just run out of gas at the end, are seemingly unable to close the sale.  But some writers spend a lot of time with their conclusions, so structure them that but one additional word would wreck that last page.  The endings are so deeply moving that you couldn’t forget them if you wanted to.  They ring like a giant bell.  These too I write down at the back of my journals.

So it is that while my journals also record the nuts and bolts of my life: who I write to or phone every day, who I meet with, where I travel to, etc. (and these can prove to be extremely significant when I need to retroactively find out where I was and what I did on certain days), even more valuable to me are the things I write down at the back of my journals, for they synthesize my creative involvements.  I also record goals and objectives in my journals.

I also write down significant things I hear in the digital media, lectures, church services, workshops—oh the list goes on and on!

* * * * *

I hope you can now see why I am urging each new participant in our Book of the Month Club to immediately purchase a full-sized journal from your local office supply store.  Mine are ledger size and contain around 300 pages; they generally last me three to five years each.  What you’ll discover, over time, is that these journals will not only end up capsulizing and chronicling your life, they will also become so much a part of who you are and what you do and say and write that you’d feel empty without them.

I look forward to hearing back from you as you make your journals part of you.

SAMPLINGS FROM MY JOURNALS

QUOTATIONS

“Parting is all we know of heaven

And all we need of hell.”

—Emily Dickinson

“It is nothing to die; it is horrible not to live.”

—Victor Hugo

“It is better to be silent and thought a fool than to open the

mouth and remove all doubt.”

—Abraham Lincoln

METAPHORS

“Now there was a chasm as wide as the world between them and only

the child to span it.”

—Ernest Pascal

“A little mouse of thought went scampering across her mind and popped into

its hole again.”

—George Meredith

SIMILES

“The softness of a kitten’s feet–like raspberries held in the hand.”

–Anne Douglas Sedgewick

“And his little feathered head drooped like the head of a wilting poppy.”

—Elizabeth Goudge

BOOK BEGINNINGS

“A sharp clip-clip of iron-shod hooves deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods out over the sage.”

–Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage

BOOK ENDINGS

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;

It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

—Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we’ll begin the Southwest National Park Lodges series.

REGENERATION

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
REGENERATION

Each of us has instilled in our DNA two virtually equal drives: the urge to work, achieve, and become; and the urge to escape completely from the workaday world. And herein lies the built-in tragedy inherent in the very concept of “living” a life without having to work—at any age! In Scripture, there is no such thing as “retirement,” but rather the divine expectation that each of us is to continue growing, achieving, until that very last breath.

So it is that those whose lives consist of perpetual leisure (vacation, if you will) are of all people the most miserable and unhappy. Just ask any manager of a Five Star resort or hotel what it is like to serve the super rich who play rather than live! What they discover by observing goalless trust kids is that they are incapable of enjoying a vacation—because vacations are all they know! Only those who work can enjoy vacations; only those who work can even comprehend the value of a vacation—or need one.

Though, in the Bible, there is no such concept as retirement, there is much said about Sabbaths, jubilees, changes of pace. Secular studies confirm that, admit it or not, without regular Sabbaths (once every week), the human mechanism quickly begins to misfire, break down, reach the point of ever diminishing returns. Those who are paid to be creative by bosses who demand of them seven-days a week on the job, soon realize that work without continual regeneration is a recipe for failure and burnout.

I concluded last Wednesday’s blog with these words: “My last conscious thoughts having to do with, How will this cruise change me? We shall be exploring the significance of that rhetorical question during the upcoming Southern Caribbean blogs.

Authors (authors worth reading, that is) all share one common trait: they are fascinated by this thing we glibly label “life” and the people (young, middle-aged, and old) they meet along the way. Before an author can write words worth reading, s/he must first do a lot of observing. And journaling. Without daily journaling, all one can remember later on (even just a day later) is just so much mush. For God only gives us a thought or epiphany that rings like a golden bell once. Thus, failing to chronicle such a thought within seconds or minutes, is to lose forever the benefit of having momentarily harbored these quicksilver thoughts that come to us but once in life. Both Matthew Arnold and Emily Dickinson (America’s greatest poetess) wrote about this phenomenon.

But the purpose of these blogs is not just to “hear my head rattle,’ but to share insights that come to me but once (in their full multidimensionality) with each of you who honor me by being willing to tune in each Wednesday to hear what I have to say.

Let me hasten to qualify that: to hear what God has to say. The reason being that long ago I realized that my own wisdom wells are shallow and my own thoughts are insipid; only God’s are worth reading. Thus it is that I daily pray the Prayer of Solomon: that God will grant me, just for this day, access to His wisdom wells, so that whatever I write will be worth whatever time it takes to read it. Consequently, if you discover perceived value in these blogs, dimly and inadequately phrased though they may be, written down in my earnest desire to be of service to those who are finding it difficult in the daily onslaught of 24/ media (produced, with all too few exceptions, by those who acknowledge no Higher Power other than themselves to give value to what they say and write), to find thoughts worth living by, it will be because God honored my request to access His wisdom.

Next Wednesday, we shall pick up from here.

HERE’S TO THE LOSERS AT VANCOUVER

No, that’s not a misprint. It’s just that there were a lot more losers than there were winners at the 21st Winter Olympics. And thanks to our digital age, when a hundredth of a second may separate a Gold Medal winner who can then earn millions in endorsements from a loser who is forced by that fraction of a second to return home to cold shoulders—well, this makes the Olympics not only fascinating but riveting.

As for the venue, my wife and I love Canada—we have to. It all started when a Canuck named Duane captured our daughter Michelle’s heart and ventured into the lion’s den so he could ask permission to marry our daughter. His voice was near breaking, just as mine was when I asked Connie’s father if I could marry her. We have to be kind to Duane, for we may need him when we move north because of global warming. And we have two half-Canadian grandsons who, like their father, are rabid ice hockey and soccer players/fans. The three of them would have sulked for four years had Canada lost to the U.S. in that ice hockey Gold Medal match. It lived up to its hype, that thing so rare in sports: an absolutely perfect match between two great teams.

Another reason I measure my life by Olympic showdowns is because they accelerate life to the breaking point: when so much is at stake, when you have trained to the exclusion of everything else for four long years, just to prepare for a few minutes of action, the pressure to succeed may become all-consuming. And since so many nations value winning Gold over everything else, the system guarantees a disproportionate number of broken hearts.

It’s mighty difficult not to overreact when all your dreams are but shattered shards at your feet. Like Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko did when he lost Gold to Evan Lysacek in Men’s Figure Skating. Lysacek really rose in my estimation when he refused to take the bait when interviewers tried to get him to balloon Plushenko’s cutting words into a feud. Merely smiled and said he’d always admired and looked up to Plushenko—and still did. Then there were those who broke, like U.S. skier Julia Mancuso who was already green with jealousy over her beautiful teammate and Sports Illustrated swimsuit pin-up girl/Gold Medal Winner Lyndsay Vonn getting a disproportionate share of media attention. When Vonn crashed into a fence and thus aborted Mancuso’s run for Gold., Mancuso’s cup boiled over into spiteful words. As for me, I self-righteously condemned her for such poor taste—until I remembered something even more ignoble in my own past. The time I’d desired a college division chairmanship so bad I practically lusted for it. So when one of my best friends got it instead of me, in my raging jealousy I wrote him a note that pulverized any joy he might have had over landing the position. That ill-fated note destroyed our friendship, and represents one of the defining moments of my life, a Rubicon if you please, when I was forced to re-evaluate all my life’s priorities. And then there was U.S. Figure Skater Rachel Platt who was unfairly downgraded by judges in their evaluations. And how could anyone forget the sight of the great Dutch skater Sven Kramer who was only seconds from Gold when he discovered his own coach had given him the wrong lane instructions—and there he sat, head in his hands, all his dreams bleeding onto the floor.

And even that queen of figure skating herself, lovely Kim Yu-Na of Korea, admitted during the competition (before she won Gold) that she was terrified of failure, convicted as she was that so high were expectations that if she returned to Korea without that Gold Medal, her fans would abandon her.

For all these reasons, my heart goes out to the losers at Vancouver, for they are the ones America’s greatest poetess, Emily Dickinson, must have been thinking of when she wrote these lines:

“Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory.

As he defeated—dying—
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!”

That Love is All There Is

“That love is all there is
             Is all we know of love.”
                          – Emily Dickinson

             Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, so let’s think about love for a few moments.  Love – I never cease to be fascinated by it.  No matter where we travel around the world, we see it evidenced everywhere.

            Especially am I moved by “that look” – that glow that comes but once in life on a woman’s face and in her eyes.  That first-time awareness that she is loved totally, that she is his all in all, can be blinding.  I saw it once in church.  The bride was beautiful in her long white dress – but far more beautiful yet was that glow, that radiance, and the look of utter adoration in her eyes as she saw him waiting there at the altar for her – indeed, it was so intense, I almost felt it a sacrilege to have seen it.

            As a long-time professor, I’ve seen it come in so many ways.  In fact, once I attempted to capture some of them in a poem:

                        “Love comes not the same for all;
                        Circuitous can be its approach. 
                        For some it comes on soft Indian moccasins
                        So gently not a whisper of moving grass is heard.
                        Till suddenly you turn – and lo, it is too late.

                        For some it begins merely as a shared journey,
                                    two among many;
                        The years pass and they sit side by side
                                    in the carriage,
                        Together yet alone,
                        Till one day they discover that the wheel tracks
                        Have etched their grooves in stone
                        And no further exits can there be.

                        For some it dances tantalizing choreography –
                        Now breathtakingly close, now far away in the mist –
                        On gossamer wings it flits its erratic way
                        Till it is captured by the marriage net
                        There to wither in the noon-day sun. 

                        For some it is born in beauty
                        So glorious that you cry;
                        So tender your heart breaks – just to see 
                        Their vain attempts to wall out the world. 

                        For some it is born in hurricane winds
                        When torrents drown the sun
                        And lightning spears the sky;
                        Their Heathcliffian passion inundates and annihilates
                                   whatever bars the way.

                         No tape or container can measure it;
                        It cannot be understood or analyzed.
                        Love can only be
                                    — Or it can cease to be.” 

                                                –“Love Comes Not the Same”
                                                            –Joseph Leininger Wheeler