A Treasure Chest of Poetry

Title: A Treasure Chest of Poetry
Author: Various
Illustrator: Laszlo Matulay
Pages: 416
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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A Treasure Chest of Poetry. What a fitting title. For it is a treasure chest. As with all treasure chests, a few of the golden trinkets are tarnished, but on the whole, it is precious. It includes over two hundred poems, including my perennial favorites Horatius at the Bridge, The Tiger, The Captain’s Daughter, The Glove and the Lions, A Modest Wit, Lady Clare, and The Children’s Hour.

I was delighted to find three of Isaac Watts’ poems for children hidden in these pages, as well as to discover a few new favorites – Robert of Linocln, Little Things, Song of Life, A Farewell, The Landing of the Pilgrims, The Diverting History of John Gilpin, and The Nose and the Eyes.

Cautions.

Several of the poems (as is unavoidable) held what I consider to be incorrect theology (Walt Whitman’s, Tennyson’s and Poe’s, mostly). Also, some of the poems refer to false gods, Muses, genii, and other such beings (The Finding of the Lyre, The Musical Instrument, Cupid Stung, and Cupid Drowned being the primary examples). Magic also plays a role in several of the poems, most noticeably, The Lady of Shalott.

Little Bille is the story of two sailors who decide to eat a little boy. The little boy outwits them and lives, but it is a grotesque suggestion.

Krinken by Eugene Field tells the story of a little boy whom the sea longed to “clasp to its bosom”. In the end, we learn that he did indeed drown.

Little Orphant Annie is the story of a little girl who likes to tell stories about witches and Gobble-ums who will “gits you ef you don’t watch out!”

Several fanciful poems are includeded – i.e., The Cow Jumped Over the Moon and The Owl and the Pussycat, however, they contained nothing inappropriate.

Conclusion. As I have stated, A Treasure Chest of Poetry is not unalloyed gold, but it is a solid anthology that will delight its readers.

Collected Poems

Title: Collected Poems
Author: Ruth Bell Graham
Pages: 282
Star Rating: ★★★★

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I wasn’t quite sure if I should buy this book. It was only a dollar, but so often religious poetry is, well, smacky. It smacks of love and goodwill and see-the-pretty-butterflies-and-aren’t-the-clouds-perfect?-ness. It just flaps around saying nothing and doing nothing and expressing itself in rapturous tones about how God made the lovely little flowers. It’s clichés and platitudes with no deeper meaning. In short, it’s smacky drivel.

I bought Collected Poems anyway. And I’m glad I did. Because it’s not smacky. It’s actually stylistic – the lines flow together, aren’t at all forced, and express a variety of perspectives and emotions. Joy is expressed. Excitement is expressed. Happiness is expressed. But sadness, mourning, despair, and uncertainty are expressed, too.

I was genuinely impressed by Collected Poems – it’s not classic stuff, but it’s more than decent. There was a certain niftiness and intelligence that expressed itself in the phrases: they conveyed clear word pictures rather than just stilted, stereotypical nonsense.

As in a darkened room
one knows –
knows without sight –
another there,
so, in the darkness,
Sure I knew
Thy presence,
and the cold despair,
formless and chaotic, merged
to a soft glory;
as a child
terrified by dark,
lies quiet
within his mother’s arms,
no wild
fears shall torment,
my weakness now.
The dark – the dark –
surrounds me still.
But so dost Thou! [pg. 85]

And this one.

This is my ledge
of quiet,
my shelf of peace,
edged
by its crooked rails
holding back the beyond.
Above,
a hawk sails
high
to challenge clouds
trespassing
my plot of sky.
Below
in the valley,
remote and dim,
sounds
come and go,
a requiem
for quiet.
Here on my ledge,
quiet praise:
of birds,
crickets,
breeze –
in different ways;
and so do I –
for these:
my ledge of quiet,
my plot of sky:
for peace. [pg. 116]

Nice, isn’t it?

Conclusion. Not classic or ‘high-browed’ poetry by any means, but thoughtful verses written by a woman who sought after God.

The Celtic Vision

Title: The Celtic Vision
Editor: Esther de Waal
Pages: 263
Star Rating: ★★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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The Celtic Vision has given me a startling realization. It’s a realization that I last experienced after reading Celtic Prayers & Praise (which means that it’s not, strictly speaking, a new realization, but it is nonetheless a realization). I love Celtic poetry. No, I mean it. I’m not having a flowery “I love everything” moment right here. Celtic poetry is truly amazing.

There are two things that I especially like about it.

# 1 – Religion permeates all. There is no distinction between the secular and the spiritual, the holy and the mundane. Every poem demonstrates the idea that even the lowliest of tasks, the most commonplace occurrences are occasions to pray for God’s help and guidance in that activity. God is called upon to protect homes, to provide safe travel, to preserve children, to aid in the milking, in the harvesting, as we are waking, sleeping, working, or relaxing. Whatever the Celtic people did, they begged God to be involved in it. Unfortunately (as I will cover in my cautions) the Triune God is not the only one thus appealed to.

# 2 – Its beautiful repetitive, rhythmic style. In Celtic poetry, a thought is not expressed and then left. It is repeated. Different aspects are emphasized. There is a great balance of style in Celtic poetry – the structure of a line is often maintained throughout an entire poem.

You’re probably wondering what that looks like. Alright, so my descriptions aren’t always the best. Let’s see… which of my fifty favorite poems should I use as an example…?

The Mother’s Parting Blessing

The benison of God be to thee,
The benison of Christ be to thee,
The benison of Spirit be to thee,
And to thy children,
To thee and to thy children.

The peace of God be to thee,
The peace of Christ be to thee,
The peace of Spirit be to thee,
During all thy life,
All the days of thy life.

The keeping of God upon thee in every pass,
The shielding of Christ upon thee in every path,
The bathing of Spirit upon thee in every stream,
In every land and sea thou goest.

The keeping of the everlasting Father be thine
Upon His own illumined altar;
The keeping of the everlasting Father be thine
Upon His own illumined altar. [pg. 139]

Wasn’t that beautiful? I’m sure you caught the repetitive bits at the beginning of the first three verses – simply gorgeous! Here’s another one that I really liked.

My God and my Chief

My God and my Chief,
I seek to Thee in the morning,
My God and my Chief,
I seek to Thee this night.
I am giving Thee my mind,
I am giving Thee my will,
I am giving Thee my wish,
My soul everlasting and my body.

Mayest Thou be chieftain over me,
Mayest Thou be master unto me,
Mayest Thou be shepherd over me,
Mayest Thou be guardian unto me,
Mayest Thou be herdsman over me,
Mayest Thou be guide unto me,
Mayest Thou be with me, O Chief of chiefs,
Father everlasting and God of the heavens. [pg. 30]

I think I ought to write a Gregorian chant-ish tune to go to that one…

There were also a number of beautiful benedictions.

The grace of God be with you,
The grace of Christ be with you,

The grace of Spirit be with you
And with your children,
For an hour, for ever, for eternity.

——

God’s blessing be yours,
And well may it befall you;
Christ’s blessing be yours,
And well be you entreated;
Spirit’s blessing be yours,
And well spend you your lives,
Each day that you rise up,
Each night that you lie down.

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May the King shield you in the valleys,
May Christ aid you on the mountains,
May Spirit bathe you on the slopes,
In hollow, on hill, on plain,

Mountain valley and plain.

Isn’t it pretty? :’)

Cautions.

Okay… so The Celtic Vision is a collection of ‘Prayers and Blessings from the Outer Hebrides’. Which basically means that much of it is Catholic.

Several of the sections were entirely free of Romish influence, but others suffered from it. For example, there is an entire section titled ‘Mary’ (most of these poems are either prayers to Mary or speak of her in  worshipful language) and another titled ‘Saints and Angels’. All told, pleas are sent up to Ariel, Gabriel, the Apostles, Michael, Columba, Bride, Brigit, Uriel, Paul, the nine angels, and Brianag.

In addition, protection is requested from banshees, brownies, fairy women, gnomes, specters, spells, charms

A few of the prayers were used as charms by the Celtic people. There were also a few caim verses, a caim being,

“an imaginary circle which anyone in fear, danger or distress made by stretching out the right hand with the forefinger extended and turning sunwise, as though on a pivot, so that the circle enclosed and accompanied the man or woman as they walked, and safeguarded them from all evil, within and without.” [pg. 159]

It is both fascinating and pitiful to see how Biblical truth (praying to God for protection) was interwoven with pagan practices to create a conglomerated, impotent whole.

Conclusion. Though very imperfect, The Celtic Vision is a worthwhile read for lovers of poetry. Just keep in mind that for every beautiful, Trinity-exalting poem, there will be an equal number addressed to Mary, the saints, and the angels.

Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson

Title: Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson
Author: Emily Dickinson
Pages: 79
Star Rating: ★★★

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Several years ago, I was introduced to Emily Dickinson’s poem about the clover and the bee. Oh, you know which one I’m talking about –

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, –
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.

Well, I decided that was dumb. I mean, here she started out by saying what you need and the she ends by saying that you don’t need it after all. Don’t YOU think that’s dumb?

So, with all of my thirteen year old wisdom, I consigned Emily Dickinson to the realm of nonsense writers. And all of these years I’ve held on to that liitle prejudice. It was only after I purchased and began to read this collections that I thought, “Oh, whoops, maybe I was wrong.”

I was wrong. Emily Dickinson’s work has much more depth than I had originally given her credit for (I’m still a bit wary of that bee, though). That’s not to say that I’m now a huge fan of her work, but I did enjoy a few of the verses. For example, I thought this one was cute.

The cricket sang,
And set the sun,
And workmen finished, one by one,
Their seam the day upon.
The low grass loaded with the dew,
The twilight stood as strangers do
With hat in hand, polite and new,
To stay as if, or go.[pg. 52]

 This one inspiring.

 Fate slew him, but he did not drop;
She felled – he did not fall –
Impaled him on her fiercest stakes –
He neutralized them all.

She stung him, sapped his firm advance,
But, when her worst was done,
And he, unmoved, regarded her,
Acknowledged him a man. [pg. 15]

 And this one simply true.

The soul unto itself
Is an imperial friend, –
Or the most agonizing spy
An enemy could send. [pg. 58]

The Author’s Biography, Preface, and Afterword were all written by ‘-Debra Fried, Cornell University’ who seems to be determined that Emily Dickinson was a skeptic who didn’t believe in the Scriptures. For my part, I really don’t know anything about Emily Dickinson or whether this portrayal of her is true, but Ms. Fried went out of her way to emphasize how cynical and progressive Dickinson was. Several of the poems in this collection did address religion; some were orthodox, others less so, but these could simply have been Dickinson’s more troubled moments, not her rule of life.

That whole paragraph was just to tell you that the editor may be biased. Do with it as you like. : )

As a classic author, Dickinson refers to Greek gods and things like mermaids. The only poem which I actually did not like/found inappropriate was the following.

The Gentian weaves her fringes –
The Maple’s loom is red –
My departing blossoms
Obviate parade.

A brief, but patient illness –
An hour to prepare,
And one below, this morning
Is where the angels are –
It was a short procession,
The Bobolink was there –
An aged Bee addressed us –
And then we knelt in prayer –
We trust that she was willing –
We ask that we may be.
Summer-Sister-Seraph!
Let us go with thee!

In the name of the Bee-
And of the Butterfly-
And of the Breeze- Amen! [pg. 54]

I found this poem to be both irreverent (praying in the name of nature rather than God) and transcendental.

Conclusion. This collection is no better than any other collection of Emily Dickinson’s poems which can be found and is therefore not especially to be recommended. The editing (i.e. Ms. ‘-Debra Fried, Cornell University’) added no extra value to the book and may in fact have lessened it. I did learn one thing, though. Emily Dickinson was almighty fond of the word ‘immortality’. (:

Celtic Prayers & Praises

Title:  Prayers & Praises in the Celtic Tradition
Author:  Various
Pages:  93
Star Rating: ★★★

Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!

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This was my first exposure to Celtic verse, and I am quite struck by it. It has a bold, simple style which belies its richness, and its repetitions of key phrases make it chant-like. Here is an example of what I mean:

In name of Father,
In name of Son,
In name of Spirit,
Three in One:

Father cherish me,
Son cherish me,
Spirit cherish me,
Three all-kindly.

God make me holy,
Christ make me holy,
Spirit make me holy,
Three all-holy.

Three aid my hope,
Three aid my love,
Three aid mine eye,
And my knee from stumbling,
My knee from stumbling.

And the fact that it sounds super-Medieval does nothing to diminish its charm. :)

I was also tickled to find the original version of the poem which has become ‘Be Thou My Vision’. Most of you should be able to detect the likeness.

Be thou my vision, beloved Lord: none other is
aught by the King of the seven heavens.

Be thou my meditation by day and night: may it
be thou that I behold for ever in my sleep.

Be thou my speech: be thou my understanding:
be thou for me: may I be for thee.

Be thou my father: may I be thy son: mayst thou
be mine: may I be thine.

Be thou alone my special love; let there be none
other save the High-King of heaven.

Thy love in my soul and in my heart – grant this
to me, O King of the seven heavens.

Beloved Christ, whate’er befall me, O Ruler of
all, be thou my vision.

Beautiful, isn’t it?