Monday, August 27, 2018

Poems of the Week ~ Then and Now, by Wendy, Mary and Rosemary

This week, we have bouquets of beautiful memories, both joyful and poignant, as all memories tend to be, for you to enjoy. Our poets are Wendy Bourke, who writes at Words and Words and Whatnot, our very own Mary, of In the Corner of My Eye, and Rosemary Nissen-Wade, our beloved Passionate Crone, who blogs at Enheduanna’s Daughter.

Wendy Now

Wendy Then

What though the radiance
which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass,
of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

- William Wordsworth

These stunning lines*, penned several centuries ago by William Wordsworth, have long reverberated, deeply, with me and thus are some of my favorite lines of poetry.  As I grow older, I find they speak to me with more redolence than ever, as much of my own poetry cascades in a similar direction.  I find myself harkening back to 'the hour of splendour in the grass' ... processing the effect of that metaphorical 'hour' upon the life that followed ... and coming to terms with the promise of youth:  the dawning of the age of Aquarius, that has yet to dawn.   These ruminations were the genesis of my poem:

eons ago … when flora infused moments … with a blithe defining spirit that wafted round the last of childhood's summers … the smell of fresh mowed grass and earth and garden-green and sweet peas … was mine

on this scorcher of a day – held, as I am – in slabs of gray concrete, buffeted
by electrically spun breezes, that – which was mine – comes to me, again … bittersweet … by virtue of its long-away … and yet … it returns, on a breath

there were bouquets of commitment and vases of amends and corsages of
achievement … there were buttercups of affection and sunflower fields but … even so, the essence of that halcyon sublimity arrives once more, as new-as-now

there were hard lessons to swallow down – bad fish to starving men – there was
rage against tyranny, might and money … there was  beauty and compassion and justice … there was love … occasionally, there was a hope or a dream

sweet peas,  a-rambling in tendrils, entwined, on a staff of strings – colourful
notes to an opening prelude – in sips of cold water and good music and the spell of a great book … in the sunny comfort and enthrall of home's backyard

the joy of finding oneself at the dawn of connectedness to a stirring soul … when
childish things fall away and our eyes are opened, with thrilling clarity, to all that is there … for me:  THAT SUMMER … ah yes, I remember it well … it is, mine, still

My parents grew sweet peas on a stringed trellis they put up in late spring, at the edge of the family garden.   The fragrance of sweet peas (for those who may not be familiar with the flower) is lovely and delicate and yet, so omnipresent, as to scent many of my childhood memories of summer days, in my backyard.  The last summers of grade school, before I went on to high school, were defining summers for me.  Without a rigid school or work agenda, I was free to do whatever made me feel good.  When I wasn't swimming or biking or playing baseball with friends, I spent a lot of time in that backyard.

Sometimes I would listen to my transistor radio.  The 60's was an incredible time for music.  Musicians protested; they sang of injustice; they questioned; they embraced sensuality.  Often these songs had the effect of making the listener feel GR-R-R-EAT!!!

I was never without a book, usually read on a blanket placed atop aromatic green grass.  One summer I went through every Trixie Belden:  Girl Detective Book, in the series.  By the next summer I was into tomes like:  Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.   If I couldn't be bothered making Kool-Aid, I generally settled for a glass of ice water that I sipped through the tunes and pages of those enchanted hours. 

The universe was full of possibilities, and opportunities to make the world a better place were EVERYWHERE.  The thought of what lay ahead was exhilarating.  I was not alone in this heady coming-of-age, rite of passage.   All around me, friends were 'piling on' with conversations about new recording artists and emerging political movements and the War in Vietnam - as more and more American boys crossed the border 30 miles from town and never went back.

Many poems shared by fellow poets, at Poets United make reference to that glorious time-of-life and speak to the nuances of the emotional tug of a backwards glance to bygone youth. 

Perhaps all generations, are doomed to have their lofty expectations fall short.  I often wonder, though, if the social movements of the 60's didn't set up the 'Boomers' for a particularly hard crash landing back to brutal reality.   That - and the fact that qualities which were universally disdained for centuries - primarily:  greed - have become acceptable - even laudable ... to say nothing of electable.  I don't think anyone saw that coming.

At one time, realistic people acknowledged that life is complicated.  It isn't always black and white ... it is often grey.   However, the acknowledgment that solving problems is not straight-forward has become so tainted by greed, and the accompanying lack of empathy that greed runs on - issues often play out in terms of a horrible choice versus a slightly less horrible choice ... possibly.   Choices such as:

- Vote for an enviro-damaging job to feed your family or kill the planet for your grandchildren.
- Stay and be killed in Syria or risk your life, and the lives of loved ones, trying to get out.

I summed up my frustration in my poem with the line: 'bad fish to starving men'.  Though not new, I feel that such impossible scenarios, are far more the norm - everywhere - than in the past. 

Wordsworth ends his piece with the line 'In the faith that looks through death, In years that bring the philosophic mind'. While it is true I will always have THAT SUMMER  - the summer of my splendour in the grass - and the wonderful memory of that exuberant time, I wait - given the state of the earth I will be leaving behind - for the philosophic mind to confer upon me a measure of hope for this planet.  

[* The Poem that has come to be known as Splendour in the Grass, is a portion of the much larger Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, published in 1807.]  

Sherry: I so resonate with this poem, Wendy. That time of "splendour in the grass" takes me back, too, to the shining hours of my youth, when life lay ahead like a golden dream. Books and music were part of my every day, as well. 

We did believe, back then, that we would change the world. Until all of our leaders were assassinated, one by one. I was struck by your line "bad fish to starving men" - such a powerfully affecting line. I, too, am having a hard time hanging onto hope. And yet, we must, for we have grandchildren who want and need to live.

When I look back, those glorious times were full of flowers, too, those of my grandma's garden. She always had sweet peas. Sigh. I love your poem, and your memories. Thank you so much for sharing.

Mary, with her mother

Every Memorial Day weekend we journeyed to the greenhouse
to pick out flats of petunias, geraniums, and marigolds
to plant around our home and also for the gravestones
of the two cemeteries where my parents’ deceased were buried.

Stooping over the soil with her shovel, hand digging holes,
Mother artfully arranged geraniums, marigolds, and petunias
and an occasional coleus in her front yard flower beds.

As a child, I often found my mother standing with her garden hose,
watering her flowers before the rise of the strong morning sun.
I knew not to disturb her then, as this was her time.

Time passed. My mother could no longer care for flowerbeds.
Her eyesight dimmed year after year, blindness was inevitable.
Instead she planted flowers in large pots on the front porch.
It was important for her to grow flowers.

Then one day when my mother was almost blind
she awoke to find her flower pots stolen.
Gone were the plants that had been her pride,
the only reminder of her gardens of yesteryear.

The thieves stole more than flowers from my mother,
they stole her desire to grow them.  She never had flowers again.
They had been all that was left for her to nurture.
Nothing more to care for is a very sad thing.

Sherry: How sad that someone took that pleasure from her, Mary. I so love this poem, full of memories of those tender years. I can see her, watering her garden, enjoying those brief peaceful moments. I love the photo, too.

Mary: When I remember things about my (long-deceased) mother, I realize that many of my memories involve flowers.  She loved them!  As a child sometimes, I would wake up and wonder where my mother was.  I would find her outside early, standing with a hose watering her flowers.  In addition to taking care of flowers, she took care of the very, very small garden we planted each year.  She loved planting things and taking care of them as they grew. This gave her so much joy.

It was sad for my mother when she was losing her sight.  She could no longer go outside and take care of plantings in the yard, but she could care for planters (with varied plants) which she kept on our front porch.  Not as extensive as a garden, but living things for her to nurture, and watch grow. It was so very sad when she woke up one morning and discovered someone had stolen these planters with flowers overnight.  We could hardly believe this, as these planters and plants were really not very valuable — except to my mother.  Who would do this?  I still wonder.  And it still makes me sad to remember how devastated my mother was after this thievery.

I often think of my mother when I stand outside with either a sprinkling can or a hose watering flowers.  I think if my mother could see me at these times she would smile to see me, following her example, being a caretaker of plants.  And THAT gives me a good feeling!

Sherry: So lovely, Mary. Every morning in summer, in my childhood, I was wakened by the slap of the hose against the side of the cottage, as my grandma watered everything down against the heat. When I think of her, it is always with flowers, too.

I, too, am now reduced to flowers in pots on my balcony. But it gives me such pleasure to have something growing. I was such a gardener when I was younger.

I so enjoyed your poem, and your thoughts about it. Thank you so much.

In closing, we leave you with this very sweet poem of remembrance penned by Rosemary. 

Rosemary has always been
passionately alive!

I walk out my door some days
into a feeling of Andrew,
my late-life husband:
things we did together,
places we saw ... the same
exact mix of sunlight and breeze.

Or I go to my little boys,
down the back yard
on a good drying day,
playing under the clothesline.
Me pegging, and watching them.
Their white singlets and nappies.

Not often my own childhood –
here is so much warmer – but
sometimes the way the winter sun
glints on the river, or the rare
pockets of fog in the hills,
a smell of coming rain....

Sherry: This is so lovely: feeling Andrew near, the memory of those little boys, while you hung nappies on the line. Sigh. Lovely memories. Life is so full of them! To keep the heart full to brimming. Rosemary, how I love this photo of you when you were small: you have kept that vibrant life force all your life. It is lovely to behold. Tell us about your poem.

Rosemary: There's really not a lot to say about this. It just happened one day, out of nowhere, expressing what I was feeling at the time I was feeling it.

I suppose I am at a time of life where I tend to do some looking back. Luckily I have also reached a stage where happy memories outweigh the painful. I can remember my husband Andrew now with more pleasure in our time together than pain at his passing, and the good things about my own childhood and my children's rather than the problems.

And of course, it was some particularly pleasant weather which caused me to recall the specific moments in the first two verses, and then led me to reflect that such triggers are rarer with regard to my own childhood. I grew up in Tasmania, which is pretty cold, and now live in the sub-tropics. But, because I live in a town very like the one I grew up in, scenically, our winters here can sometimes flash me back.

It was indeed a very sweet moment or two. Sweet weather, sweet memories.

Sherry: Very sweet, my friend, and thank you for sharing them.

Such a lovely nostalgic bouquet of blooms and memories, my friends, wasn't it? Thank you so much, Wendy, Mary and Rosemary, for sharing these lovely poems, and thank you, our loyal readers for stopping by to read them. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It could be you!  (But, a hint: next week we have a very special feature for you: Robin Kimber will be sharing with us his memories of his boyhood in London during World War II. It is special, and not to be missed.)


  1. I loved this feature. So precious and full of memories, loved the then photos too. Wonderful poems, wonderful poets, wonderful people.

  2. A great choice of poems and poets, Sherry. It was great to see all three as they were then and as they are now.

  3. I loved that too! One does a lot of remembering, as we age.........lovely memories.

  4. Oh, how nice to get up this morning and find this feature! That's one of my happiest poems, which I'm glad to share. And oh, Wendy, how you took me back! Yes the sixties was a glorious time in which to be young. I'm glad to have experienced such optimism at that particular time of my life; perfect, really. I still believe in those ideals, despite such a huge turn of the wheel as we've had since. And then you took me back even further, to the sweet peas of my own childhood. I had quite forgotten that delicate scent, but now it is as if I can smell it again right this minute. What a treat! And Mary, the story of your mother and her flowers was so moving in so many ways. Sherry, your comments too ... you made me remember the sound of the hose against the side of our house when my Dad did his morning and evening watering of our garden. Our memories can be so personal, and yet so universal!

  5. Sherry, thanks for featuring the three of us. I feel so very honored to be featured alongside Wendy and Rosemary.

    Wendy, I so often resonate with your poetry. Perhaps because we have lived through some of the same things. I wonder if we always might resonate more with poets of our own generation. Not sure about that. The 60's were wonderful - the love, the hopes, the dreams. Though their were some crises in the world (I remember the Cuban missile crisis) and some assassinations of heroes I remember the time with fondness. The hope always remained. I did read Trixie Belden and some of SILENT SPRING. And, ah, the transistor radio - I used to go to bed with one. Smiles.

    I do wonder, Wendy, if all generations are doomed to have their expectations fall short. Actually I wonder what the expectations of the young are today. Do they have the dreams and hopes that we do? Are they willing to fight for them or escape for them (as so many of our young men escaped to Canada)? I loved the picture of you THEN, Wendy! Those were glorious years.

    Rosemary, I like the way you reflected on memories. And, I am glad that you are now able to look at the pleasure of time times with Andrew more than the pain of his passing. Time is good that way, I think. And I liked the memories of the time your own sons were young. I do think it is good when the happy memories outweigh the painful. I think we have some control over that, don't you? I have had some painful memories too, but my focus is on the pleasant as much as is humanly possible. Oh, and I enjoyed the photo of you as a child as well!

    Sherry, thanks again for this feature!!

    1. We did have so much hope. I wonder if the young these days have it to the same degree. They are so much more aware of world events than we were, I wonder if it scares them, especially climate change. When the Parkland kids rose up, I had hope again. I hope they keep pushing forward so the world can make the changes that are needed.

  6. The sound of the hose hitting the side of the cottage, waking me, is my strongest memory of summer as a child at my Grandma's - and sweet peas is another. I grew them on my balcony last year, and they were sweet.

  7. I just realised how perfectly matched the 'then' photos are to the poems – a particular 'then' which each of us mentions. Well done, Sherry!

  8. this was indeed, lovely - in all ways ... such a trio of voices ringing out - sharing flowers, and moments, then, now - and how time shifts and we change too, but still, can treasure the smallest things, which, so often, in the end, are the ones that sustain us ...

    wonderful selection Sherry - thank you - and thank you to Rosemary, Mary and Wendy ... for being so generous with your words (in the poems and comments)

  9. This feature was pure pleasure to put together. I do love poems that look back, remembering those golden times.......when we and the world were young.

  10. I really enjoyed reading this post! Sherry, you did a great job on pulling these different threads of reminiscences together. I love how the post highlights the many facets of our shared reminiscences: early childhood, later childhood, pre-teen/teen, marriage and motherhood. The pictures, as well, I thought depicted those stages beautifully. I also really loved the fact that - although we remember the past, for the most part, fondly - the post was not sugar-coated. There were those 'splendor in the grass days', it is true. But there was hurt and pain. Time (so they say, and it appears to hold true) does dull a lot of sorrow.

    Though all the poets, here, have lived in different parts of the world, we all seem to have been affected by many similar experiences and social mores. I was struck by the way in which each piece involved memories that were rooted in the front-and-back-yards of our lives - that little patch of green that is the outdoor place of our homes.

    Mary, the poem about your Mother's flowers is lovely. I have found that it is often those bittersweet moments that stay with us throughout our lives, and you have rendered the story so poignantly and, really, with a knowing tenderness of the pleasure she took in nurturing her flowers and the depth of loss, when they were stolen from her.

    Rosemary, your poem is written with such warmth and affection. You have - beautifully - expressed how precious these memories are to you. There is a wonderful airy quality to your piece. I could almost feel the whiffle winds of time fluttering through the stanzas.

    Sherry, once again, I am amazed at the work you put into these features. The writing that goes into connecting and commenting on the poems that you showcase, is excellent. Thank you so much! And thank you for the honour of including my work with that of Mary and Rosemary - truly gifted and giving poets who are so very supportive (as are you, Sherry) of fellow poets. Great job on this, Poets!

  11. Thank you, Wendy, for your kind words, and for being part of us here at Poets United. These features mean a lot to me, and they keep me going on weeks when the words are sluggish. Smiles.

  12. ". . . there were bouquets of commitment and vases of amends and corsages of achievement … there were buttercups of affection and sunflower fields . . . ." Sigh. I'm right there with you. And feel the loss of those days as well as this garden "artfully arranged geraniums, marigolds, and petunias
    and an occasional coleus . . . " Oh, to steal someone's life long joy and care is a crime! When good memories outweigh the bad, then our spirits are full. I totally enjoyed this feature, Sherry, especially the now and then pictures. Thank you Wendy an Mary and Rosemary for working memory so sweetly through poetry.

  13. Such lovely morning blossoms with the fragrance of childhood. Love all the beautiful poems by Wendy, Mary and Rosemary. About flower thieving I just want to add; an old lady comes to my house and plucks nearly all the hibiscus reachable to her. Now we feel shy and move away when she comes with a long stick with an iron hook at its end :D

  14. Great job, Sherry, for this feature on three excellent poets and their poetry.
    it brings back tons of memories for me. i think the 60's and 70's are very defining moments for me. times of innocence and awareness, at the same time. we may not have much then, but we don't feel poor.

  15. This was so great to read.. thank you Mary, Wendy and Rosemary for sharing your moments of remembrance and nostalgia. Sherry, it's amazing how you pulled these poems together to create this piece. And I loved the pictures!!!

  16. I loved reading Wendy's poem, and all that she said about "that summer." My Grandmother always had sweet peas in her garden, such a lovely flower, and such a sweet smell...all wrapped up in the tendrils of memories. It was an inoccent time.

  17. I loved reading about Mary's Mother and her love of flowers!! I wonder too, why someone would do such a thing? There are some things in life, that have no answers, but we continue to remember and wonder? One day I was cleaning house, and put a rag rug on the porch, and someone stole it? I alwys wondered who would do that? Thank you Mary for sharing your Mothe's love of flowers!

  18. Dear Rosemary, I also loved the picture of you as a small child, yes, I see you then and I see you now, still the same in so many ways, good to know we don't leave everything behind!! Yes, there is so much happiness in my past lives, the child that I was, the young woman, hopes high, the young Mother, with high hopes for my Son. And after time's passing (length unknown) many memories of earlier times, flow back to me, perhaps a little more than the sorrow of their passing. So many empty spaces, as we grow older...thank you so much Rosemary and Sherry...I loved all three!!

  19. I am happy you enjoyed this feature, my friends. I certainly enjoyed putting it together.

  20. Wow, wow,wow 💞 if this isn't a treasure trove then I don't know what is! Thank you so much Sherry for giving us a glimpse into the lives of these three wonderful ladies. Sigh .. I really loved this feature! 😊

  21. What a joyous post from 3 of my very favorite makes me think back as well as nostalgia creeps in more now these days....I adored the lovely pictures and thoughts from each of the poets...and thank you Sherry for a wonderful post!


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