Sep. 27, 2002

Ode on the Whole Duty of Parents

by Frances Cornford

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: "Ode on the Whole Duty of Parents," by Frances Cornford.

Ode on the Whole Duty of Parents

The spirits of children are remote and wise,
They must go free
Like fishes in the sea
Or starlings in the skies,
Whilst you remain
The shore where casually they come again.
But when there falls the stalking shade of fear,
You must be suddenly near,
You, the unstable, must become a tree
In whose unending heights of flowering green
Hangs every fruit that grows, with silver bells;
Where heart-distracting magic birds are seen
And all the things a fairy-story tells;
Though still you should possess
Roots that go deep in ordinary earth,
And strong consoling bark
To love and to caress.

Last, when at dark
Safe on the pillow lies an up-gazing head
And drinking holy eyes
Are fixed on you,
When, from behind them, questions come to birth
On all the things that you have ever said
Of suns and snakes and parallelograms and flies,
And whether these are true,
Then for a while you'll need to be no more
That sheltering shore
Or legendary tree in safety spread,
No, then you must put on
The robes of Solomon,
Or simply be
Sir Isaac Newton sitting on the bed.

On this day in 1961, the poet H.D. [Hilda Doolittle] died in Zurich. She lived for most of her life in Europe, where she wrote several volumes of poetry and two novels, Bid Me to Live (1960) and HERmione (published posthumously, in 1981).

It's the birthday of Jim Thompson, born in Anadarko, Oklahoma (1906). Thompson told people his father had committed suicide by eating the stuffing out of his mattress, but he also killed a character of his off the same way, and no one knew whether or not he was telling the truth. He wrote several dozen crime novels, including The Killer Inside Me (1952) and The Grifters (1963). Thompson himself said that he'd written a lot of books, but that there was only one plot-things were not what they seemed.

On this day in 1773, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell spent the night on the Isle of Skye. Dr. Johnson, wrote Boswell, "toasted the Highland beauties with great readiness." Goaded by the group, one of the women sat on his knee and kissed him. "Do it again," Dr. Johnson replied, "and let us see who will tire first."

On this day in 1711, Joseph Addison addressed his daily broadside, The Spectator, to a woman whose father refused to have anything to do with her because she had married against his wishes. "His severe usage has given me such a Blow," she had written, "that I shall soon sink under it, unless I may be relieved by any Impression which the reading of this in your Paper may make upon him." In this case, Addison found in favor of the daughter. "Dependence is a perpetual Call upon Humanity," Addison wrote, "and a greater Incitement to Tenderness and Pity than any other Motive whatsoever. The Man therefore ...who can overcome this powerful Instinct, and extinguish natural Affection, debases his Mind even below Brutality."

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