“The Pirate” by Helena Sharpsteen, a poet and lyricist from Boston, with illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright, in St. Nicholas Magazine, 1906.
“The Queen of Hearts” by John Byam Liston Shaw (1872-1919) , an English painter born in Madras, India.
“Margaret Nettlefold before Her Dining Room at Winterbourne”
“The Boer War” to which title Shaw added two lines from Christina Rossetti, “Last summer green things were greener, Brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer.”
I don’t know how to read the words,
Nor how the black things go.
But if you stand it up, and sing,
You never have to know.
The music sounds alike each time
When grown-up people play;
But every time I sing, myself,
It sounds a different way.
And when I’ve sung the book all through,
And every page, around,
I stand it upside down and sing,
To see how that will sound.
I sing how all the things outside
The window look to me;
The shiny wrinkles in the road,
And then, about my Tree;
I sing about the City, too,
The noises and the wheels;
And Windows blinking in the sun;—
I sing the way it feels.
And if a Sparrow flies across,
I put him in the Song.—
I sing whatever happens in,
To make it last for long.
I sing about the things I think
Of almost everything.
Sometimes I don’t know what to Think
—Till I begin to Sing.
– Illustration by Elizabeth Shippen Green for The Book of the Little Past (1910) by Josephine Preston Peabody; posted for Kim Parent, who sings like an angel.
This stamp came on an envelope in yesterday’s mail, with its portrait of John McCrae and the first lines of his poem:
In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
The poem continues:
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae was a Canadian medical officer serving in Flanders, a region of Belgium, during World War I. At one point during the second battle for Ypres, he spent 17 straight days treating the wounded and dying. On the night of May 2, 1915, McCrae buried a former student and friend; the burial service was conducted in the dark for security reasons, and without a chaplain; McCrae simply said aloud from memory a bit of the Church of England’s “Order of Burial for the Dead.”
The next day, he sat on the rear step of an ambulance and wrote a poem about the young men lost, about the white crosses that marked their graves, and the red poppies that suddenly seemed to be growing everywhere in the fields. Why poppies? Because wild poppies grow best when other nearby plants have been uprooted, and the soil is rich in lime. During the artillery barrages, the chalk soil of Flanders was churned and became rich in lime from the rubble. The poppy seeds in the soil sprouted, and almost overnight the barren battle fields and rows of graves were red with poppies.
McCrae showed the poem to one other soldier, and then threw it aside. A soldier retrieved it and sent it to London, where it was published in Punch magazine. Eventually, it became the most famous poem of the war. Inspired by McCrae’s poem, women serving veterans – in Britain, Canada and the United States, in YMCA canteens, in the American Legion Auxiliary – began wearing red paper poppies as a sign of remembrance of those who had given their lives for their country. In 1919, the idea of distributing the poppies and collecting donations for the relief of disabled veterans was born. Since then, poppies have been an important part of remembering those who gave their lives — in wars we no longer remember and in wars that are entirely too fresh in our memories — and raising money for those veterans who will never return to full lives.
I am one of the lucky ones. My own military service was uneventful. I was never in combat. I returned to civilian life unscathed. But McCrae’s poem, whenever I see it, reminds me of those who “lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow. Loved, and were loved…” but were not as fortunate as myself.
“Her loveliness I never knew, Until she smiled on me, O then I saw her eye was bright, A well of love, a spring of light.” — From “She Is Not Fair to Outward View” by Hartley Coleridge
“The sense of the world is short, Long and various the report, To love, and be beloved!” — From “Eros” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I’d sleep another hundred years, O love, for such another kiss! Oh! wake forever, love, she hears, For heaven holds no greater bliss.” — A liberty taken with “The Departure” by Alfred Tennyson; the actual final line is “O love, ‘twas such as this and this.”
“Come live with me, and be my love, And we will all the pleasures prove, that hill and valley, grove and field, And all the craggy mountains yield!” — From “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe
The merry wind,
The rolling sea,
The blazing sun,
The seagulls free.
Thus sailed he.
Illustration and poem by Pamela Colman Smith from A Broad Sheet, No. 4, April 1902, reprinted in The Artwork & Times of Pamela Colman Smith: Artist of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck (2009) by Stuart R. Kaplan.
I am also stroking the dog’s head
and writing down these words
which means that I am calmly flying
in the face of the Buddhist advice
to do only one thing at a time.
– From “Fool Me Good” by Billy Collins in The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems (2005) with thanks to Roz.
“I love their short legs and big heads,
the whole hippo look.
Hundreds of them would frolic
in the mud of a wide, slow-moving river,
and I would eat my popcorn
in the dark of a neighborhood theater.
When they opened their enormous mouths
lined with big stubby teeth
I would drink my enormous Coke.”
– My thanks to Billy Collins for these lines from “Hippos on Holiday” in Ballistics: Poems (2008), and to Bill Hecht for the Nature cover.
Yes, that’s Orion over there,
the three studs of the belt
clearly lined up just off the horizon.
And if you turn around you can see
Gemini, very visible tonight,
the twins looking off into space as usual.
That cluster a little higher in the sky
is Cassiopeia sitting in her astral chair
if I’m not mistaken.
And directly overhead,
isn’t that Virginia Woolf
slipping along the River Ouse
in her inflatable canoe?
See the wide-brimmed hat and there,
the outline of the paddle, raised and dripping stars?
– “Constellations” by Billy Collins from The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems (2005), because I love Virginia Woolf and Billy Collins, with thanks to Roz Hines