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on gathering, on solitude: thanksgiving


The wild turkeys come to visit the writer in the coop:

I’ll begin by attempting to untangle my usual, traditional gray-headed Thanksgiving Day thoughts with this very celebratory old poem written by Ben Johnson (in olde English—delightfully) which beautifully captures the mood of dinner and friends. Read it once, read it twice. Read it aloud…digest the lusciousness of the language.

Inviting a Friend to Supper

To night, grave sir, both my poore house, and I
…………..Doe equally desire your companie:
Not that we thinke us worthy such a ghest,
…………..But that your worth will dignifie our feast,
With those that come; whose grace may make that seeme
…………..Something, which, else, could hope for no esteeme.
It is the faire acceptance. Sir, creates
…………..The entertaynment perfect: not the cates.
Yet shall you have, to recline your palate,
…………..An olive, capers, or some better sallade
Ushring the mutton; with a short-leg’d hen,
…………..If we can get her, full of egs, and then,
Limons, and wine for sauce: to these, a coney
…………..Is not to be despair’d of, for our money;
And, though fowle, now, be scarce, yet there are clarkes,
…………..The skie not falling, thinke we may have larkes.
Ile tell you of more, and lye, so you will come:
…………..Of partrich, pheasant, wood-cock, of which some
May yet be there; and godwit, if we can:
…………..Knat, raile, and ruffe too. How so ere, my man
Shall reade a piece of Virgil, Tacitus;
…………..Livie, or of some better books to us,
Of which wee’ll speake our minds, amidst our meate;
…………..And Ile professe no verses to repeate
To this, if ought appeare, which I know not of,
………………………….That will the pastrie, not my paper, show of
Digestive cheese, and fruit there sure will bee;
…………..But that, which most doth take my Muse, and mee,
Is a pure cup of rich Canary-wine,
…………..Which is the Mermaids, now, but shall be mine;
Of which had Horace, or Anacreon tasted,
………………………….Their Jives, as doe their lines, tiii now had lasted.
Tobacco, Nectar, or the Thespian spring,
…………..Are all but Luthers beere, to this I sing.
Of this we will sup free, but moderately,
…………..And we wilt have no Pooly, or Parrot by;
Nor shall our cups make any guiltie men:
…………..But, at our parting, we will be, as when
We innocently met. No simple word,
…………..That shall be utter’d at our mirthfull boord,
Shall make us sad next morning: or affright
…………..The libertie, that wee’ll enjoy to night.

BEN JOHNSON (England, 1573-1637)

If Christmas is all about love, almost world-wide, Thanksgiving gives the nod, the handshake, the hug to gratitude– purely American, our beginning.

If Christmas is carols and Christ and light, Thanksgiving is the color of harvest, wrapped in a wooly gray shawl to fend off wind, cold rain, fresh snow.

Christmas for me is Dickens–England; Thanksgiving, Robert Frost…New England-American, giving thanks of-a-sort in a private way. The poetry of talking to oneself in the dark.

I was about to expound on this in great detail–what I really feel about this holiday…how my ethnic neighborhood “bringing up” respected and loved old world grandma’s (babi’s) bountiful table of laughter and language (loud, Crackling Czech Only spoken here), uncles and aunts and cousins and… And how this only child (someday-to-put-it-all-down-on-paper) turned away from this in time and learned to love, carve out a singular silence of Thanksgiving Days and most holidays…Alone. (Please, NO invitations).

I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll leave it to me on a walk…in the house baking bread…comfortable in the diminishing light, anticipating the thoughtfulness of night.

I give thanks for the American poet Robert Frost who speaks, time and place, with a gratefulness, a gnarly old poet’s perspective of what is, is–rendering into prayer, what a November soul feels.

MY NOVEMBER GUEST

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
…..Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
…..She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
…..She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
…..Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
…..The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
…..And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
…..The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so.
…..And they are better for her praise.

Robert Frost

AN OLD MAN’S WINTER NIGHT

All out-of-doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him—at a loss,
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping here, he scared it once again
In clomping off;—and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man—one man—can’t keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It’s thus he does it of a winter night.

Robert Frost

13 Comments

  1. Robert M. Zoschke

    November 26, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    simply magnanimously STELLAR post today. ahem.

  2. Perfect. Once again I spent my time on the deer stand, with works by Norbert Blei as my meditative companion. Also perfect. Words cannot express how impressed i constantly with your good taste in words, whomever writes them. I’ve spent the last two years studying how our human “stories” (including poetry) travel through time, history, and people of all cultures, and how they come to travel to where they are, and your energy certainly adds to their ultimate journey. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. All praise audience of turkeys
    and of Blei’s and Frost’s!
    Well being to
    all in deepest November….

    Zep

  4. You are never quite alone with that crowd of memories!

  5. Sheila Saperstein

    November 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    Once again to the heart of the matter embellished by sheer ageless beauty.

  6. Happy Thanksgiving Dad. San Diego is waiting for you to visit. Lv, Christo and Nia

  7. How the spirit of poets linger. How you serve them up to us, some like hot coffee, some like champagne…some like a glass of red wine. And we sip and sip, and give thamks to you among our other blessings.

  8. Thanks so much. The choice of poems and words and poets is simple and beautiful, best, Leo

  9. Brings me back to 1989 as I spent Thanksgiving Eve on the last night of the old Czech Republic!

  10. Thanks Norb, This is truly a feast for any occasion but
    Perfect for Thanksgiving. In Ben Johnson’s words-
    “The poetry of talking to oneself in the dark.” Phil Hansotia.

  11. Again, I am thankful that you share your thoughts with me in simple, but beautiful words that show me to your home and your heart. I am always left with a warm sense of peace.
    Mary Ann Grzych

  12. Here too, six toms paid us a Thankgiving visit…yes they would have been fine eating, but I no longer have the urge! The old poem reminds me of a time about 35 years ago when we lived in eastern Mass. Thanksgiving there was close to the original Plymouth Colony, and in late Novemberr our neighbor and I went fishing off the Plymouth dock for tomcod. We caught a pail full!

  13. Robert Frost forces me into quiet introspection. He says so perfectly what I think and feel. Thank you for giving us these beautiful thoughts.
    Gretchen

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