Tag Archives: Gerard Manley Hopkins

That’s Some Pig

From the time we learn the words abracadabra or open sesame, we know that words can be magic. When adults tell children to “say the magic word,” meaning please or thank you, children see the cause and effect of magic words.

Certain books use words in a way that work magic on us, making them live on inside us for the rest of our lives.  Just thinking about these books can be magical.  Robert Frost’s poetry. Jeffrey Masson’s When Elephants Weep. Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins and John Donne. Harriet Arnow’s The Dollmaker. King Lear.

Sometimes naming even seems to work some magic on the recipient of the name. When I called my orange cat Macavity, after the T.S.Eliot master criminal cat, I might have inadvertently caused him to steal all my earrings.  One of my tuxedo cat’s middle names is Jellicle Jill, and like Eliot’s Jellicle cats, she dances all night. In the morning I find her toys strewn around the house.

Even one word can resonate with magic.  For me a word which reverberates with magic is radiant–and all because of E.B. White and his children’s classic Charlotte’s Web. When I first read that Charlotte spun out that word in Wilbur’s pen and saw how Wilbur lived up (key word in this sentence is “up”) to it, I could never see that word the same again. Think of Wilbur who jumps and spins in the air to prove he’s radiant.  He begins to feel radiant from the inside. Then Mrs. Arable gives him a buttermilk bath, so that he looks radiant to others. But he was always radiant–he just had to find that quality within himself and act upon it.

I’ve been reminded of Wilbur every morning by the label on my new face cleanser by Burt’s Bees: Radiance. I feel akin to Wilbur, being an average Jenny like most of us are (Average Joes and Jennies) and how nice it is to try to live up to the radiance that bottle offers.  Then I think of how terrific Wilbur discovered he could be, but how humble he stayed.  After all, it was Charlotte’s hard work that allowed him to discover all that he could be–all that he could live up to.

When Charlotte wrote that Wilbur was some pig she was saying Wilbur really was a good soul, and that all pigs can be such. Her description of Wilbur connects back with Mrs. Arable’s comment on the very first page: “‘Some pigs were born last night.'” [my italics] All those pigs had the potential when they were born to be more than they were, just as Wilbur did.

Although it’s nice to have a good friend like Charlotte as a helper, all of us average Joes and Jennies can live up to the magic words we find in our lives. You might find yours in the Bible or in a novel or a play. You might find yours from the mouth of a friend or stranger.

As you age, you might add more and more magic words to your treasury. For me, “That’ll do, pig,” from the movie Babe layered on “some pig” in my memory bank. These words resonate with appreciation for the effort we put into our daily lives. Our hard work makes our lives glow radiantly as we try to live up to our potential.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Nonfiction, Writing

Deviation and Beauty

The red maple up past the McKinley Elementary School playground on Emerson Street, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is etched on the backdrop of my mind like a permanent screen saver.  A symmetrical outline, the tree turned crimson every October for exactly one month.

As a kindergartener looking up the street from my Grandma’s side yard, the tree represented perfection to me.  The first time I noticed it was probably when I was pushed in my stroller up the street and someone, my mother or grandmother, gave me a red leaf from the ground.

Later, Grandma ironed one under wax paper for me to keep.

When my mother worked at Checker Motors and I entered McKinley school in the morning kindergarten, I stayed with my grandparents during the days.  I used to gather leaves from under the tree by myself.  Each leaf, shaped like a small hand, matched my own as I picked it up and placed it in my palm.

When I looked up into the leaves, the light sparkled, dappling my view of the world around me.

Red trees stir me with their deviation from the norm, their place in the firmament of “all things counter, original, spare, strange” (Pied BeautyGerard Manley Hopkins)  Like the passion of tender new peony shoots against a backdrop of green bushes, the red tree blazes against greenery, blue sky, or dreary human-drawn landscape.

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On a related note, I am wondering if I am obsessed with trees.  I’ve written about the palo verde, the elm, the plum, and more.  If I didn’t have this paper trail of evidence leading me to the source of my obsession, I couldn’t have told you that this is one of my writing topics.  I recognize my obsession with writing about family and my childhood, but I didn’t see the trees until I looked back.

In her seminal book Writing Down the BonesNatalie Goldberg suggests:

Writers end up writing about their obsessions.  Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be leased.

She insists that obsessions have power.  “Harness that power,” she urges.

What are your writing obsessions?  If you look back at what you have written, can you identify an obsession you didn’t realize you had?

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory

“Small Stone” and a Poetic Mountain in a Flock of Pansies

These pansies made it through the frost last week because we protected them. With white freeze blankets, my husband and I covered as many flowers and plants as we could manage.  Our yard looked as if it had been overrun by ghosts; it was worth it to save the beauties.

Today I contemplated these pansies, the star shapes inside, the concentric “circles,” the complimentary and harmonious colors, and the thin velvety feel to my fingers.  Ultimately, what I wanted to say was in the Hopkins poem “Pied Beauty.”  No point of saying anything else.

Pied Beauty

BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

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For more on “small stones,” you can read my first post on the subject.  It’s all about this: find a moment in which to be  mindful and record it.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Poetry