Words of Wisdom that Carried Me Through Other Dark Times: Desiderata

200px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_Sunset_at_Sea_-_Thomas_Moran_-_overall

Thomas Moran’s Apocalyptic Art of America’s Storied West

In the late 1960s and 1970s, this wisdom, –ostensibly found on a church wall – but I always felt it too modern for that claim–, pulled me through the darkest times of my life.

I send this as my post today, because we are living in tumult that, to me, exceeds the terrors of World War II.  At least, during WWII, the actions of tyrants were not aimed at our sacred planet itself.

My own mood is more akin to “…the center does not hold…     slouching toward Bethlehem to be born…”

But I cannot let myself fall into any slough of despond.  Never had LIGHT been more important in our world.

May these lines flow in and around you like grace, like honey itself, –shot through with light, bringing comfort and healing.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly and listen to others,
even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is.

Many persons strive for high ideals
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be not cynical about love,
for, in the face of all aridity and disappointment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars.
You have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive God to be,

and whatever your labours and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham and drudgery and broken dreams
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

 

Max Ehrman, 1927.

Found in Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore, U.S.A. Dated 1692

From the Alt.Usage.English FAQ: “Desiderata” was written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945). In 1956, the rector of St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland, used the poem in a collection of mimeographed inspirational material for his congregation. Someone who subsequently printed it asserted that it was found in Old St. Paul’s Church, dated 1692. The year 1692 was the founding date of the church and has nothing to do with the poem. See Fred D. Cavinder, “Desiderata”, TWA Ambassador, Aug. 1973, pp. 14-15.

 

 

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Poem: “The Funnies” — when cartoons brought laughter…

“THE FUNNIES”

 

each Sunday, my father

changed out of church clothes

kneeling on the living room carpet

along with my little sister and me

to read us what was then known as

“the funnies”

 

Marilyn and I could not always

laugh with Dagwood, Katzenjammer

I had been known to have nightmares

over the fate of Prince Valiant

 

once my newspaperman father

had to bring home next week’s

Valiant appearance

proving my hero

was safe from the rats

 

funnies were in color

unlike war news

splashed in oversized black/white

along more serious pages of “the papers”

 

some cartoonists

devoted

their entire week’s “strip”

to sagas of kittens and knitting

 

when the knitter

was elsewhere

tabbies and tigers scampered

to her basket of yarn and new work

 

detaching long needles

unwinding sweater or scarf

scattering yarn balls

across bright living room rugs

 

since this past November

— cartoons no longer laughing matters

an entire litter somehow invaded

the work room

where I left

myself

 

time itself four-footed

undoing all of my stitchery

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

Lathrup Village, near Detroit, Michigan

                                                                      

EXILE – a poem in honor of France

 

EXILE

 

despite the impact of Cézanne

upon the poet

Rilke considered himself

“exiled to the Seine”

 

I am exiled here

under a Caligula governor

to whom ‘my’ nature is enemy

while the new Hitler secures

nomination by the former

Grand Old Party

 

as every World War II book

recounts the rise of fascism

all too recognizable

on every side

in what used to be

our country

 

exile ME to the Seine!

I’ll start at that point of rockiness

where old fishermen gather new fish

beneath the venerable willows

— silence of shadiness

broken only by riverine ripples

 

nearby dark barges

— sleek and gleaming —

–quaint names glowing

at their prows–

evoke other lifetimes

hint of vagabondage

brigandry, while

geraniums and laundry

ripple brightly at their sterns

 

let me become habitué

of the Seine’s Left Bank

savoring anew the courtly lunch

at that dark and storied restaurant

upon the Quai Voltaire

 

followed by long studious strolls

among des bouquinistes

whether or not I buy

I’ll stroke venerable bindings

 

thinking in almost-French

Allons-y, à la Ste. Chapelle”…

“et, après ca, le pèlerinage”

to the grim fortress where

Marie Antoinette

whiled last hours

playing chess

 

awash in sombreness

I’ll seek “une glace

at ice cream’s mecca

upon Isle St. Louis

— seeming a venerable boat

at anchor

upon the dimpling Seine

 

wrinkling and whispering,

the river will announce

“Caroline, bienvenue.”

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

in mourning with France

for the tragedy of Nice

in the summer of 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Childhood Summers — Michigan

The lovely weather of recent weeks allows me to keep windows and doors open, so that not only light, but also air, nature sounds, and fragrances waft into my ‘new’ Lawrenceville apartment.

This morning, the departure of a small plane, –purring like the aircraft of my Michigan childhood –, thrust me right back into the silken grass of our smoothly rounded ditch in front of our little red brick house.  It was newly built by my parents, in the tiny town of Lathrup, well outside Detroit.  Hardly anyone drove down ‘California Drive’ except neighbors, guests, and the bakery truck.

There was nothing in Lathrup, not even a post office — we were officially ‘Birmingham.’  If we needed food, my father would have to drive us to ‘the store’, in the NEXT town.  ‘Store’ meant grocer.  He stood behind a weathered counter, near a worn butcher’s block.  A huge wheel of real cheddar, which we called ‘store cheese’, rested under glass to the right of the cash register.  Which was shiny black and now we’d say, ‘had all the bells and whistles,’ especially bells.  I’d give him my Mother’s list, and he’d have to go all over the tiny store and up and down a rickety ladder, to bring provisions to us.  When my father moved us here, his German mother wept:  “You are moving to the wilderness.”

By no means was Lathrup wilderness.  But we did have woods nearby, a side yard (which turned into a skating rink in winter, thanks to my father), and a ‘vacant lot’ which became a Victory Garden during the war.  (WWII)  As I wrote in an early poem, “one year the fathers, gardens overrun, waged cucumber war.”

There wasn’t much privacy in our childhood.  One of the few places where I wasn’t pursued by the grown-ups, — not even the kindly ones–, was that silky ditch.  In summer, I’d lie back into its welcoming contours, and watch blue skies hatch clouds.  I pretended that God had a cloud pipe, puffed them into existence.  Then I would seriously study, trying to find out what creatures were billowing into existence overhead.

Planes were so rare then, although we were not far, as the crow flies, from Willow Run (where Lindbergh was running wartime plane production – so we’d’ve been prime Hitler targets, had he been able to turn out sufficient transatlantic planes).  Any time one of these little miracles (I remember especially biplanes) would come into view, I could not take my eyes nor my ears away from that phenomenon.

There were bees then.  One of the key memories of lying in the ditch was hearing bees, yes, busy, in all that short white clover.  It was ceaseless, seemed deafening.

My sister liked to be out in, even to run away into, the deep woods.  I preferred the vacant lot with its myriad of wildflowers.  The colors of summer in Michigan were white Queen Anne’s lace, spiky blue chicory, and the glare and blare of gold/orange brown-eyed Susans.  The dark centers of the ‘lace’ looked far more like insects to me than the only true flower of that weed.  It never did any good to bring the ‘lace’ inside for bouquets to set in Mother’s antique pewter — the little white parts shriveled, as though shocked, into something a little thicker than dust, tumbling all over the maple tables.

The chicory always seemed to be struggling.  Towering above me in the ditch, it seemed faded, as though just giving up in summer’s heat, always closing early.  Later I would learn that Indians could tell time by the opening and closing of chicory’s washed-out blue stiff blooms, even on cloudy days.

Our mother didn’t like to cook, really, and especially turned her back on gardening.  A few spring iris grew spikily behind the house, but turned hideous as soon as each bloom twirled shut.  A few raucous marigolds, and sometimes multicolored portulaca, made up the flowers of the yard.  Everything in the side yard, especially the minuscule ‘Chinese lanterns’,  was far more fascinating to me.

As August appeared, the wild weeds put forth a parched yet spicy fragrance.  That, along with almost deafening crickets of the Fourth of July, and locusts not long thereafter, meant summer was already rolling to a close.

We knew nothing of wilderness in those days.  My sister and I had never heard of preserves, where she in Illinois and I in New Jersey, spend key nature hours in all seasons.  Nobody gave us a bird book, let alone binoculars.  When we try to remember, we ‘see’ jays, robins everywhere (the Michigan state bird), hefty crows in and around our yards.  Mallards swam in cemetery ponds.  Gulls called loud and clear as we would reach first the ferry, then the BRIDGE, to the Upper Peninsula, our absolute favorite place to be.  Never was there a gull anywhere but Northern Michigan.  And, once, above the Tahquamenon River, an eagle coursed above us on the root-beer-hued waters.

There must have been butterflies.  If so, they ‘were all monarchs’.  No fireflies in Michigan.  Each summer, we’d poke holes in Mason jar lids, fill the jars with grass, catch fireflies in Ohio and bring them back home in the back seat of one of the Pontiacs, whose hood ornaments my father resembled.  As an adult, here in Princeton, someone revealed, re lightning bugs, “Carolyn, only one sex lights.”

We’d keep summer Crayolas in the refrigerator, so they would not melt when we used them on the screened-in back porch.  Totally lacking needlework skill, I nevertheless had crocheted long strands which my father attached on the outside of the screens.  I planted blue morning glory (his nickname for me) seeds, and they exuberantly twined all the way to the top of the screens.  We colored all summer in a blue haze.  As I would write in a much later poem, there were, of course, houseflies, “bumping, disgruntled, against the tall porch screens.”

Re-experiencing “ditch days” now, in the 21st Century, my clearest memory –beyond the small planes, the huge clouds– is the sound of all those bees, singing as they worked the clover.

THE REAL FOURTH OF JULY – Courage the norm, rights the motive…

Star-Spangled Banner on Stern of Twilight Steamboat on the Flooded Mississippi River 2010

Star-Spangled Banner on Stern of Twilight Steamboat on the Flooded Mississippi River
2010

I am an old-fashioned patriot.  I mean really old-fashioned, as in the time of and the paradigm of the Founding Fathers.

When people ask, lightly for them, “In what era would like to have lived?”, I always say the 1770’s in Philadelphia.  Only not as a woman.  None of this Betsy Ross business, nor even the brilliant Abigail, urging John, “Remember the women.”

No, I don’t even care which man I am, so long as I am a man, and off to the City Tavern with Toms (1 and 2 — Jefferson and Paine), John (Adams of course), Ben – who needs no surname, and George, Father of our Country in many ways beyond war.  I have a powdered wig and those dusky pantalons, and white long stockings, and uncomfortable-looking shoes with sort-of high heels and shiny buckles.  Night after night, in the rustic taverns, lit by candle or gaslight, I am saying with my buddies, “Give me Liberty, or give me death.”

Hancock House, Scene of British Massacre of Patriots, Salem County NJ after Battle of Quinton Bridge

Hancock House, Scene of British Massacre of Patriots, Salem County NJ after Battle of Quinton Bridge — its upstairs room is said still to reveal splotches of true Patriots’ blood – slaughtered in sleep

I don’t have any patience with the skim-milk liberty of the 21st Century.  I bristle when the Fourth of July is termed a Freedom Fest.  In our country now, which our Founding Fathers would never recognize, the more we prate of liberty and freedom, the less we have.

America The Beautiful -- Pole Farm's Red Barn, Fields and Berries

America The Beautiful — Pole Farm’s Red Barn, Fields and Berries

This scene of barn and fields is my personal American icon.  It stands for Independence, such as farmers lived and passed on through generations.  It stands for salt-of-the-earth people, who worked with the earth, not in spite of it, to feed families and neighbors, to nourish not only bodies, but the very spirit of our land.

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were farmers.  They knew the solid safety of our country rested on rural realities.  Not in slogans, let alone in the renaming of airports.

Those inalienable rights for which our Forefathers pledged and some lost their fortunes and lives, tho never their sacred honor, are trampled daily in 21st-Century Washington, by mega-corporations, in our very un-free media, in books, in trade deals, in intra-country negotiations.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s International Bill of Rights, for which she (the only woman at the United Nations) thought and fought and negotiated and declared, seems a figment of imagination.  Lost in the shuffle, and worse.  Her proudest achievement – trampled in the dust.

Reeds Beach Flag, One of NJ's Land's Ends, Battered by Sandy, Returning to Life

Reeds Beach Flag, One of NJ’s Land’s Ends, Battered by Sandy, Returning to Life

Our entire country won the war of Revolution here, where I live now, in Lawrenceville (then Maidenhead) and in Trenton’s two Christmas battles, and in nearby Monmouth and in distant Yorktown, thanks to the French Fleet and heroic Lafayette.  It was also won in small towns, such as Concord and Lexinbton and on Bunker Hill in Boston, and in kitchens where wives and children melted the family pewter and silver and whatever other metals, to create bullets to defeat the tyrranical Brits.

Proud Names of the Greenwich Town Tea Burners in Salem County NJ

Proud Names of the Greenwich Town Tea Burners in Salem County NJ

Give Me Libert;y, or Give Me Death - Tea Burners' Monument, Greenwich Town, Salem County, NJ

Give Me Libert;y, or Give Me Death – Tea Burners’ Monument, Greenwich Town, Salem County, NJ

in weeks and months before the written Declaration, and in the interminable years thereafter, the man and woman in the streets, in the fields, and even in tea-burning ceremonies in Greenwich New Jersey and yes in Princeton, as well as in Boston, courage was the norm, and rights were the motive.. 

My Country, 'tis of Thee, Sweet Land -- in Spring Leaves, Rhinebeck NJ

My Country, ’tis of Thee, Sweet Land — in Spring Leaves, Rhinebeck NJ

Heroes were also our norm in those decades, and they didn’t only wear pantalons.  Resistance was as fierce among wives and daughters of our Founding Fathers, as among the men in Philadelphia.  In many cases, the women were nearer to the maurading British, gunpowder, cannonfire, destruction by many means of their homes and communities.  Their spines were as stiff as those of their mates, negotiating in various capitals, riding to country taverns with muffled horses’ hooves, standing on balconies and reading declarations of rights.

Flag and East Point Light, Delaware Bayshore, New Jersey

Flag and East Point Light, Delaware Bayshore, New Jersey

Life.  Liberty.  The Pursuit of Happiness.  How simple they sounded when I was a child.  How they fired the soldiers in WWI and WWII, especially on D Day and beyond.  How rare those qualities seem now.

We fought for them, even more than for our flag.

I am greatly disturbed always that the Stars and Stripes became a symbol of aggression and revenge, instead of freedom and inalienable rights, from the first moments of 9/11 ever onward.

Do you ever wonder where all those flapping auto-flags came from, within hours of the dissolution of the Twin Towers?  Who alerted the flag-manufacturers?

Before 9/11, we never saw those flags except in rare personal presidential motorcades, as when JFK motored through Detroit and Illinois before his impossible election.

After 9/11, little flags were everywhere and big ones inexplicably on bridges and overpasses.  Why?  In those days, it seemed, our banner stood for vengeance, even war.

One of Five Covered Bridges of Bennington VT, where the Green Mountain Boys Helped Create and Preserve Liberty in Our Land

One of Five Covered Bridges of Bennington VT, where the Green Mountain Boys Helped Create and Preserve Liberty in Our Land

I happen to love the Stars and Stripes.

All year, I’ve been photographing them hither and yon, to try to recapture the pride and honor of Fourth of July as a child.

Beekman Arms Flags, Rhinebeck NY

Beekman Arms Flags, Rhinebeck NY, where Revolutionary sentiments were pounded into the tavern tables

Hence the collection.  What does it mean to YOU?

“Sarah Palin Says It’s All My Fault” and Other Political Poems

American Flag at Stern of the Twilight Steamboat on the Mississippi

American Flag at Stern of the Twilight Steamboat on the Mississippi

When friends and I were furiously fighting with Princeton University to preserve the hallowed Princeton Nursery Lands in Kingston, I lamented to one of them that night, “But I’m a poet!  What am I doing at the barricades?”

The friend brilliantly retorted, “But Carolyn, poets BELONG at the barricades.”

I returned, chastened, to the battle.  Ultimately, we saved a handful of acres, and the Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands was formed and thrives, leading informative trail walks, planting Flemer Nursery trees, sponsoring annual clean-ups, such as the very successful recent one on Martin Luther King Day.  FPNL aims to restore the classic nursery buildings, stalled now by insufficient fundings.  NJWILBEAUTY readers can assist by going onto the FPNL website and donating, and coming to their enriching events.

In the intervening years, in amongst nature poems, which I share with NJWILDBEAUTY readers, I have increasingly written political poems.

My fury over the indifference of politicians to the plight of the planet, results in my deciding to share some of the more radical political poems of recent years with my readers.

“Sarah Palin Says It’s All My Fault” won on-line publication at the time of the Gulf Oil Spill.  Now politicians, including the the President we thought knew better and would prevent profanation of the planet, want to drill for oil off-shore, in already imperiled New Jersey, and also puncture her north, south, east, west and especially the Pine Barrens for the spoils of Fracking!

Do what you can, readers, with your legislators, wherever you live, to arrest despoilation of the Planet.  

Pipeline! Along D&R Canal south of Princeton, Our Historic Bucolic Waterway, Our Water SUPPLY!

Pipeline! Along D&R Canal south of Princeton, Our Historic Bucolic Waterway, Our Water SUPPLY!

Here’s my Sarah Poem.

POETS FOR LIVING WATERS

Creating venues for poetry in support of healthy ocean communities

DEAR SARAH PALIN, by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Posted on June 21, 2010 by Heidi Lynn Staples

DEAR SARAH PALIN,

I understand it’s all my fault
–this Gulf oil disaster, I mean–
not only all that fire
bodies catapulted into air
then drowned
soon likely shark bait
but also this volcano of oil
spewing interminably
into our blue mantle

Sarah, you say
I did this
all of this and more
now some six weeks ago
with no end in sight
and no businessman
politician not even a general
let alone you, Sarah Palin,
knows how to stop
this tornado of oil

it’s also my fault, the oiled birds
Northern gannets
–pristine as Josephine
in her Empire gown
frail white silk
adorned with gold
though not quite bees
dark eyes snapping
as she becomes increasingly encased
in ‘my’ oil
more abruptly than all those mastodons
in La Brea’s tar pits

now slender cormorants
who, everyone is sure, are drowning
as they swim along
neck barely afloat
no one realizing
the genius of cormorants
who can fly/swim 30 miles an hour
underwater
when they are not oiled

about the mpg of my car
my old car
for the ownership of which
I am quite guilty
for the replacement of which
I have no means

cormorants
must wave both wings
after every dive
to dry them
so that they may
dive and dive again
–no wave strong enough
to shake off ceaseless poison weight
of oil

it’s my fault, the reddish egrets
you know his own epitaph
written by photographer Ted Cross
for his own recent death
describing his multi-faceted self
on the Other Side
“still searching for the perfect photograph
of the reddish egret”

Ted did not have in mind
this soiled oiled specimen
trying, unsuccessfully
to lift newly leaden
legs wings and feet
out of Gulf mud muck and oil

it’s all my fault
and not because I use the wrong lightbulbs
in a couple of fixtures
nor because I do turn on the heat.
inside, in winter, sometimes
although I’ve been doing without air
conditioning so far this troubled year

it’s my fault
because I am an “extreme environmentalist”
because I think there should never be any more
drilling for oil in our country
because I deplore petrotyrrany
the privatization of profits
socialization of poverty
because I think we should start with the auto companies

well, what do you expect, Sarah?
I grew up in Detroit

I’ve never seen a wolf in the wild
as you do and deplore
–these beings you condemn to bloody deaths
I would embrace

nor have I encountered
a single polar bear
let alone a starving female trying to find food
for her new brood
attempting to swim with them
toward vanishing ice floes

but that’s o.k. with you
Sarah
it makes the hunting
easier

it’s my fault, Sarah
for I am quite literally
a tree hugger

I believe that greed should end
America return to her original nobility
where people pledged lives
fortunes
sacred honor
remember sacred honor?
— ah, well, probably not, Sarah

I believe we are our Planet’s
Keepers

Sarah – who are you?

~~~~~~~~~~

STATEMENT
what everyone must remember, wherever anyone lives (not only those of us in New Jersey’s key migratory corridor, the only state with three coastlines) is that these are our birds, our waters.  Because of the Gulf Stream, this catastrophe is global.  We may have passed the tipping point.  We are all the oiled pelican.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

OK, that’s not the only political poem these days:

 

SHIP OF STATE

 

Roosevelt died again

— I can’t help it!

I keep reading histories/

biographies of WWII

 

and he’s there

at the helm

jaunty, sure

eyes all asparkle

despite Depression

war-on-two fronts

cigarette slanted

in that elegant holder

easy at the wheel

 

no circling shadows yet

dim those piercing eyes – nothing

forces the wide and reassuring grin

from that dashing face

— emblem of my childhood

 

he can sail forever

circumnavigate

this imperiled globe

that was so much less imperiled

in his hands

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

January 2015

 

Here may be my most radical ever.  I see Edward Snowden right up there with our Founding Fathers and Thomas Paine, yes, at the barricades, willing to give lives, fortunes and sacred honor so that our noble country can live, thrive, and persist.

 

Pole Farm, Lawrenceville NJ, America The Beautiful

Pole Farm, Lawrenceville NJ, America The Beautiful

 

REVOLUTIONARY HEROISM, 21ST CENTURY

 

I understand you, Edward Snowden

you find a country

notorious for terrorism

safer

than your own

 

you love your own

enough

to fight for its return

to sacred honor

blood-won rights

–privacy above all

 

you love your own

enough to give her up

hoping

that your sacrifice

will turn around

our country’s

despoilation / ruination

 

I understand you

praise your courage

 

wonder what it is that I can do

to turn the tide

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

January 2015

 

Preserved Farm, Essential America, Salem County NJ

Preserved Farm, Essential America, Salem County NJ