Nov. 29, 2006
This Is the Hay That No Man Planted
Poem: "This Is the Hay That No Man Planted" by Elizabeth Coatsworth. Printed with the permission of the estate of Elizabeth Coatsworth.
This Is the Hay That No Man Planted
This is the hay that no man planted,
This is the ground that was never plowed,
Watered by tides, cold and brackish,
Shadowed by fog and the sea-born cloud.
Here comes no sound of bobolink's singing,
Only the wail of the gull's long cry,
Where men now reap as they reap their meadows
Heaping the great gold stacks to dry.
All winter long when deep pile the snowdrifts,
And cattle stand in the dark all day,
Many a cow shall taste pale sea-weed
Twined in the stalks of the wild salt hay.
Literary and Historical Notes:
Today is the birthday of three writers known for their books for children: Louisa May Alcott, Madeline L'Engle and C. S. Lewis.
Louisa May Alcott (books by this author) was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania (1832). She had started out writing sensational stories about duels and suicides, opium addiction, mind control, bigamy and murder. She called it "blood and thunder" literature. But in 1867, an editor suggested that she try writing what he called "a girl's book," and she said she'd try. The result was Little Women (1868), and it was a huge success. She was obligated to keep writing more books in the same vein, which distressed her, but she did it anyway.
Madeleine L'Engle (books by this author) was born in New York City (1918). She grew up with parents who were deeply in love with each other, but who didn't give her much attention. When she was 12, her parents took her to Switzerland. She thought they were just visiting, but while they were there, her parents brought her to a boarding school and left her there. Around the same time, she began writing fiction to invent a family for herself.
Her big breakthrough book was a science fiction novel called A Wrinkle in Time (1962) about a group of children who have to rescue their father from a planet where individuality has been outlawed.
C.S. (Clive Staples) Lewis (books by this author) was born in Belfast, Ireland (1898). He said of his childhood, "I am a product ...[of] books. There were books in the study, books in the drawing-room, books in the cloak room, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents' interests, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves."
Lewis's parents were Anglicans and took him to church as a boy, but he found religion cold and boring. He preferred pagan mythology: Irish, Norse, and Greek myths he read in storybooks. He created an imaginary country called "Boxen" and wrote stories about it. He said, "My early stories were an attempt to combine my two chief literary pleasures 'dressed animals' and 'knights in armour.' As a result, I wrote about chivalrous mice and rabbits who rode out in complete mail to kill not giants but cats."
He began teaching philosophy at Oxford, where he met J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was a devout Christian and Lewis was an atheist, but they shared a love for mythology. They took a long walks around the Oxford grounds, debating the existence of God. Tolkien tried to persuade Lewis that the story of Jesus was a myth but that it had also actually happened.
The morning after one of those walks, Lewis went with his brother to the zoo. He said, "When we set out [for the zoo] I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion." He became the most prominent Christian apologist in the world. He recorded a series of lectures for radio, which were broadcast in England during World War II, and many people gathered around their radios to take comfort from his ideas in the midst of bombing raids. The lectures were collected into his book Mere Christianity (1952).
But he is best remembered for the seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia, which he started publishing in 1950. Lewis decided to write for children, even though he never had any children himself and had never had any strong relationships with children. He wanted to give children what he had gotten himself from fairytales when he was a child.
C.S. Lewis said, "You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me."
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