Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Kite is a Victim by Leonard Cohen

It's still winter, I know, but this poem blew me away (no pun intended), especially the latter stanzas.


A kite is a victim you are sure of.
You love it because it pulls
gentle enough to call you master,
strong enough to call you fool;
because it lives
like a trained falcon
in the high sweet air,
and you can always haul it down
to tame it in your drawer.

A kite is a fish you have already caught
in a pool where no fish come,
so you play him carefully and long,
and hope he won't give up,
or the wind die down.

A kite is the last poem you've written,
so you give it to the wind,
but you don't let it go
until someone finds you
something else to do.

A kite is a contract of glory
that must be made with the sun,
so you make friends with the field
the river and the wind,
then you pray the whole cold night before,
under the travelling cordless moon,
to make you worthy and lyric and pure.


From Leonard Cohen's Poems and Songs.

Friday, February 7, 2014

P.L. Travers and William Wordsworth: Intimations of Immortality in the Banks Nursery

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, 
The earth, and every common sight
                 To me did seem
            Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;--
             Turn wheresoe'er I may,
              By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
 
          The rainbow comes and goes, 
            And lovely is the rose; 
            The moon doth with delight
     Look round her when the heavens are bare;
            Waters on a starry night
            Are beautiful and fair;
     The sunshine is a glorious birth;
     But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth...
 
 From " Ode: Intimations on Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" by William Wordsworth
 
I found another magical gem in my "Saving Mr. Banks"-inspired reading of Mary Poppins, the idea of which was taken straight out of Wordsworth's poem above.
 
Chapter nine is devoted to the Banks family twins, infants John and Barbara. We find them in the family nursery speaking to the sunlight and conversing with a starling, apparently a regular visitor. Mary Poppins, also gifted wit supranatural communication skills (surprise, surprise) joins the conversation, and soon the twins are discussing the limits of their elder siblings. John complains first about Jane:
 
"Why, only last Monday I heard Jane remark that she wished she knew what language the Wind spoke."
 
After Barbara goes on in a similar vein about their other dense family members, Mary Poppins explains that Jane and Michael were once were gifted with the same language skills as the twins now possess. The twins are shocked.
 
"What?" said John and Barbara together in very surprised voices. "Really? You mean they understood the Starling and the Wind and---"

 "And what the trees say and the language of the sunlight and the stars -- of course they did! Once," said Mary Poppins. 
 
Immediately realizing what this implies for their own futures, the twins insist that sheer determination will enable them to retain their infant gifts. The Starling, trying to be kind, explains:
 
"...You'll forget because you just can't help it. There never was a human being that remembered after the age of one -- at the very latest -- except, of course, Her." And he jerked his head over his shoulder at Mary Poppins.
 
John doesn't care that Mary Poppins is, in the words of the starling, "the Great Exception." He goes on desperately:
 
"Listen, listen, the wind's talking," said John, tilting his head on one side. "Do you really mean we won't be able to hear that when we're older, Mary Poppins?"
 
"You'll hear it all right," said Mary Poppins, "but you won't understand." At that Barbara began to weep gently. There were tears in John's eyes, too. "Well, it can't be helped. It's how things happen," said Mary Poppins sensibly.
 
The Starling gently jeers them but when he comes back for a visit, following the twin's first birthday party, and finds them babbling unintelligibly, their magical language skills lost, he is visibly disappointed,
 
He remained silent for a little while, staring into the cots. Then he shook himself vigorously.
 
"Well, well. I must be off. Back to my chimney. It will need a spring-cleaning, I'll be bound." He flew on to the window-sill and paused, Looking back over his shoulder.
 
"It's seem funny without them, though. Always liked talking to them -- so I did. I shall miss them." He brushed his wing quickly across his eyes.
 
So in P.L. Travers' world, not only are humans disappointed by their inability to communicate with nature, the reverse is true as well: nature is also disappointed by the unfortunate disconnect. Magical.

...trailing clouds of glory do we come 
               From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy! ...
 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mary Poppins and the gingerbread stars: musings on the magic of P.L. Travers


I'm one of those people who became so smitten with "Saving Mr. Banks" that it caused me to dive headlong into the "primary source material" (I dropped generous just-before-Christmas-hints about my lack of this material and Santa delivered).

 But I somehow don't find myself in the yes-Julie-Andrews-was-much-sweeter-than-Travers-intended camp. I always thought the Disney incarnation was pretty cold. I will say, though, that the real, original deal is an absolute ice cube. She's so cold I couldn't understand for a while what made the books so popular.

 I guess the obvious appeal is the magic. The movie already proved this in spades: the laughing uncle who has tea in the air and sidewalk paintings one can enter. The book contains some additional, albeit quirky, magic not seen in the film: Mary Poppins is a sort of Dr. Doolittle who communicates with animals.

 But I still wasn't quite getting it until the end of chapter eight which features an odd character named Mrs. Corry who is supposed to be a charming seller of gingerbread but who berates and belittles her adult daughters in front of strangers. Okaaay. Anyway, she and Mary Poppins conspire to steal from the children some carefully saved and stored paper stars (part of the gingerbread wrapping) in order to paste them onto the night sky. The children watch this activity from a distance, enchanted:

 Then Jane and Michael saw a most amazing sight. As soon as she arrived at the top of her ladder, Mrs. Corry dipped her brush into the glue and began slapping the sticky substance against the sky. And Mary Poppins, when this had been done, took something shiny from her basket and fixed it to the glue. When she took her hand away they saw that she was sticking the Gingerbread Stars to the sky. As each one was placed in position it began to twinkle furiously, sending out rays of sparkling golden light.

'They're ours!' said Michael breathlessly. 'They're our stars. She thought we were asleep and came in and took them.'

Jane doesn't say much until the very end of the chapter:

'What I want to know,' she said, 'is this: Are the stars gold paper or is the gold paper stars?'

Aside from the unfortunate Kleptomania involved this really is a magical scene and I think I may be getting why Disney worked so hard to bring this book to the screen.

 In the meantime, I'm going to keep reading. I have three more Travers books to get through after this one and I hope to "paste a star" on this blog every time a scene touches me.