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.

Robert Barr’s “A Prince of Good Fellows”

BLOG #13, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #39
ROBERT BARR’S A PRINCE OF GOOD FELLOWS
April 1, 2015

For April, here is an easy-read after the monumental War and Peace. It is one of the earliest books I ever bought with my own money; I purchased it in 1953. It had everything my boyish mind reveled in back then: history, royalty, intrigue, danger, romance, and a likable protagonist, James V, King of Scotland.

Back then, I knew nothing about the author. Several days ago, browsing in my library for our 39th book selection, I spied the battered, stained, and discolored copy of my old friend, picked it up, and decided to re-read it to see if it would still have its initial hold on me.

It did—and it didn’t. What was different was that I now had over half a century of historical and literary research behind me, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, a masters in English, and a doctorate in English (History of Ideas concentration). Back then, I read it for the adventure and romance of it; now, I read it with the critical eye of a scholar. In other words, even though I knew it was fiction, I now wondered if it was fiction based on fact (back in the fifties I didn’t care the proverbial “two hoots” whether the book was accurate historically or not—I was just looking for a good read). But now, that wasn’t enough.

Now, remembering how I was captivated by the concluding romance back then, I discovered that I still was, but now I wanted to know if that was accurate. I almost wished I hadn’t checked, for though the book still appears to be historically accurate, there wasn’t to be a happily-ever-after scenario for the king and his bride.

I’d long ago discovered in my historical research that there was precious little real romance in royal marriages down through the centuries. Marriages took place for dynastic reasons and the principals had precious little to say about it. If they wanted romantic love, society would wink at their many extra-marital escapades. In fact, James V was the only legitimate child his father ever had. Note Charles and Diana’s disastrous marriage. In fact, it was said that Charles was the only man in the world not in love with Diana. Instead, he found love with Camilla, another man’s wife. In the case of William, Kate represents one of the very few cases in British history of a future monarch being permitted to select his own mate.

Now, in my research, I discovered that James V’s bride died during the first year after marriage; he remarried—and out of that union came one of history’s saddest heroines: the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots, doomed to die at the hands of Elizabeth I, her cousin.

But having said all this, I’m still glad I prowled around in actual history after having re-read this book, because now that I’ve authenticated the core story, I’m more fascinated than ever with James V; his nemesis, that rascal Henry VIII of England; and so many other fascinating real-life characters.

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Now for the author, a most fascinating real-life figure himself. Robert Barr (1849-1912) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. When only four years of age, he emigrated to Canada with his parents. After being educated in Toronto, in 1881 Barr decided to relocate to London, then the most exciting and powerful city in the world. He would go on to become an educator, journalist, editor, publisher, and novelist. By the 1890s, he was publishing a book a year (mostly novels, short story collections as well), and was close friends with literary luminaries such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Bret Harte, and Stephen Crane. Barr was especially prolific in writing historical romances and books about crime.

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He was a real craftsman with words. According to his close friend Jerome K. Jerome, Barr will “often spend an entire morning constructing a single sentence. . . . If he writes a four-thousand-word story in a month, he feels he has earned a holiday.”

* * *

Now that I’ve learned all this about Barr, I’m intrigued enough to track down more of his books and read them. I’ll be interested in your reactions.

Look for copies on the web: A Prince of Good Fellows (New York: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1902).

Love — What Is It?

BLOG #6, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LOVE – WHAT IS IT?
February 11, 2015

Valentine’s Day is upon us once again–and merchandisers are hoping to milk it to death before it passes. Romance is in the air – everywhere. Is not that a good thing? Of course it is! I ought to know: of our 89 books and counting – 74 being story anthologies—, love predominates. It is a key reason the Christmas in My Heart® series will turn 24 this fall. Readers young and old turn first to the love stories, and re-read them most often. They tell me about it in their letters to me.

But love – at least in America – is not what it was when I was growing up. Because of our so-called “Hookup Society,” in which sex is instant, bypassing all the traditional preliminaries and totally divorced from commitment or even long-term friendship, disillusion and heartbreak is almost a given. Ergo the current epidemic of suicides among the young.

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Perhaps it is time for me to revisit one book that features my favorite love stories: Heart to Heart Stories of Love (Focus on the Family/Tyndale House, 2000). Specifically, the Introduction: “The Many Faces of Love.”

What is love anyhow? It is the magical ingredient that no scientist has ever been able to isolate, the yeast that can transform a friendship into love, marriage, and family.

One of my favorite definitions of love came from the pen of Washington Irving, one of America’s first great writers. His only love, Matilda Hoffman, died when Irving was twenty-six. He never married but authored one of the most romantic books ever written, The Alhambra. The book contains one of my favorite love stories, “The Pilgrim of Love” (a little bit too long for this collection). In it, a prince who has been shut up in a palace tower learns the language of the birds, and a little dove teaches him what love is:

“Love is the torment of one, the felicity of two, the strife and enmity of three, . . . the great mystery and principle of life, the intoxicating revel of youth, the sober delight of age. . . . Every created being has its mate; the most insignificant bird sings to its paramour; the very beetle woos its lady beetle in the dust; and yon butterflies which you see fluttering high above the tower and toying in the air, are happy in each other’s love.”

One of the loveliest summations of what love is was written by my cherished friend, Arthur Gordon, in his great book, Through Many Windows:

“Love . . . is a shining thing, like a golden fire or a silver mist. It comes very quietly, you can’t command it, but you can’t deny it, either. When it does come, you can’t quite see it or touch it, but you can feel it—inside of you and around you and the person you love. It changes you; it changes everything. Colors are brighter, music is sweeter, funny things are funnier. Ordinary speech won’t do—you grope for better ways to express how you feel. You read poetry. Maybe you even try to write it. . . . Oh, it’s so many little things. Waltzing in the dark, waiting for the phone to ring, opening the box of flowers. It’s holding hands in a movie; it’s humming a sad little tune; it’s walking in the rain; it’s riding in a convertible with the wind in your hair. It’s the quarreling and making up again. It’s that first drowsy thought in the morning and that last kiss at night.”

THE STAGES OF LOVE

God designed us to take joy in natural stages, including the natural stages of love.

His plan is simple but beautiful. First, we watch our parents: the love they show to us is the love we shall pass on. Second, we experience the love of God, which becomes the catalyst for our philosophy of love. Third, we love the innocent and pure love of childhood—friendship in its most disinterested form. Then there is the love of adolescence. If we preserve our virginity until marriage (God’s plan for us), this teen period will be a time for developing some of life’s stronger friendships. In this time of seasoning, of gradually developing values to live by, there is no place for sexual passion, which can do nothing at this stage but destroy, disillusion, and rob us of one of God’s greatest gifts: coming to the marriage bed as virgins. Adolescence is followed by young adulthood, time for us to be blinded with the rapture of first love; time for us to get to know each other as friends and soul mates; time for us to compare our pasts, presents, and futures, in order to see if we are truly compatible; time for us to see if our families would be compatible—for we do indeed marry families; time for us to discuss God and church and how big a role we would allocate to them. Then and only then are we ready to think seriously about marriage and family. God designed the process to crescendo as the marriage day nears, culminating in a wedding without guilt, stigma, or regrets.

Today’s media leaders seem determined to destroy all of this. They sell us a bill of goods. They tell us, as did the serpent in Eden, that God lies, that instant gratification will make us gods. They tell us that modesty, virginity, purity, and integrity are for fools. They tell us that minds and hearts and souls don’t matter at all; all that really matters is self-gratification, gusto. They tell us—over and over and over—that sex has nothing to do with friendship, love, respect, commitment, or being soul mates. Instead, they claim that sex is an acquired skill, like golf or hockey, and the more teachers we have in this respect, the better. They tell us that preliminaries are for the simple: five minutes after we meet, it’s time to disrobe and show the other “how good we are” in bed!

What the media doesn’t tell us is that virginity is an absolute: one can no more be partly a virgin than one can be partly pregnant. They don’t tell us that Eve’s first response after eating the apple was not godlike euphoria but a guilty realization that she was naked. They don’t tell us that, with the sexual act, all of the illusions, all of the progressive beauty of getting to know a soul, heart, and mind prior to getting to know the body—all of that is irretrievably lost. They don’t tell us that even the marriage ceremony itself is anticlimactic if we have already lived together.

Permit me to quote here from one of my books, Remote Controlled (Review and Herald Publishing, 1993):

Last year in my world literature class we read and discussed Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I have asked many previous classes to read the book, but it had never before elicited the response of last year’s class: “Dr. Wheeler, what naive innocents Cosette and Marius are! . . . Sitting there on a park bench day after day, just talking and looking at each other!” And for the first time it really came home to me what the media has done to our conception of love—in this case, romantic love.

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There is no magic to love anymore. No hauntingly beautiful, gradual unfolding of the petals of love, leading up to the ultimate full flowering of marriage and a lifetime together. No, in today’s fiction and celluloid portrayals, there are no courtships. There are in today’s music and MTV, in today’s advertising, not even any preliminaries! Boy meets girl, man meets woman, and bam! If the chemistry is ripe—and it apparently almost always is—before the relationship is more than minutes old, before they so much as date awhile in order to see whether or not they even like each other, before they so much as hold hands, before they so much as experience the rapture of that first gentle kiss . . . before any of this, within minutes they are nude and in bed with each other! This is what my students were really responding to in . . . the courtship of Marius and Cosette.

The truth that seems to have been forgotten in our modern era is that sexual purity before marriage nurtures and preserves the magic of romantic love. . . .”

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Even though this book is today out of print, we still have new copies available. The price is $13.99, plus shipping of $4.50; $6.00 if you want priority mail). Specify if you wish the book to be personally or generically inscribed, and to whom. No extra cost.

Our mailing address: Sage & Holly Distributors, P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

FIVE CLOSE FRIENDS

                                                            WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
                                                                 FIVE CLOSE FRIENDS
                                                                       July 11, 2012

Friendship has been much on my mind in recent days, mainly because after our 30th Zane Grey’s West Society convention, in Spearfish, South Dakota, as Connie and I, and Bob and Lucy Earp drove northwest into Wyoming and Montana, one of Bob’s closest friends was dying.  At any given moment Bob expected that fatal call.  When it came at last, Bob had to leave us and fly to California for the memorial service.  Because of this final parting, we each spoke feelingly about the role of friends in life.

After Bob returned, he told us about the moving memorial service and the tribute he gave to his cherished friend.  At the end, he concluded with something like these words: “It is said that if we are really lucky, we’ll be blessed by five close friends who’ll remain constant during this journey we call life.  I’ve been one of those lucky ones, but tragically I’ve been losing them: then there were four, and then there were three — and now: there are only two.  Oh how I shall miss him!”

This reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves, in which he postulates that each of our closest friends unlocks a door into our psyche that no one else will ever be able to open.  When one of them dies, our world becomes proportionally smaller.  For we may make new friends—and ought to—but they can never fully replace those who have known us at each stage down through the years.

I am reminded of Dr. Oz who yesterday, during the 5:30 news with Diane Sawyer, pointed out that whenever he has surgery on a patient he first insists that someone who loves or cares deeply for the patient be there for the operation.  Reason being that the survival odds go way down when a patient faces surgery alone.  The will to survive is almost always tied to having people in your life who love you and care deeply about the outcome.

So it is that I suggest that you take stock of your own relationships.  How many really close friends do you have?  Have you told them lately just how much they mean to youj?  How much darker the world would be without them?

If you haven’t, don’t wait until it’s too late.  Call them, write them, or knock on their door – TODAY!

Published in: on July 11, 2012 at 8:28 am  Comments (4)  
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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