May 26, 2005

At the Summer Estate, 1899

by Christopher Wiseman

THURSDAY, 26 MAY, 2005
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Poem: "At the Summer Estate, 1899" by Christopher Wiseman from Crossing the Salt Flats. © The Porcupine's Quill. Reprinted with permission.

At the Summer Estate, 1899

The servants meet them. They were sent ahead
To open up the house, stock up, prepare
For the family. They know the Count will check
The cellar, then go to look at the boathouse,
While tight-lipped, severe, the Countess will inspect
The kitchen and the entertaining rooms.
It has always been so. He will note the termites,
Rotting wood, and she see the fading curtains.
The children will explore the paths to the edge
Of the forest, go to the lake, and run silly
Through the orchard pretending to be lost.

All around, great houses breathe again.
Shutters are opened, cobwebs and dead insects
Brushed away, pine-sweet air rinses the rooms
With their paintings and brocade. The land revives.
But summer comes more slowly every year,
It seems, and these pleasures they have waited for
In the city, in the Russia of too many.
Already the Count is in his white suit, checking
His guns. Cushions are brought out for his chaise,
The wicker chairs on the terrace, the rowing boats.
Invitations stand on the mantelpiece.

They settle in. They're comfortable here.
The new century is talk round the dinner
Tables. There's gossip. The groom leads out horses
For the morning canter. The ladies look for shade.
So it has always been. Shots from hunting
Parties in the woods. Lotions for insects.
Outside all day, the children are turning wild—
Brown-skinned, mature, but still polite at meals.
Cigars and cognac in the summerhouse.
Gruff talk. The ladies move to a sitting-room
For wine, in their embroidered floor-length dresses.

Three months is all they have. In this country
Such days are far too few. Somehow the painting
And the patching up are left again. The termites.
The charcoal-burners haven't called this year.
The children say they want to stay for ever
And cry to think of going back. The flies
Grow heavy and slow. They light a fire after dinner
To keep away the chill. So it was, you think,
And wonder if they ever had time to look,
These people, at the shivers on the lake, or wonder
If the howling they heard at night was coming closer.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1521 that Martin Luther was declared an outlaw and his writings were banned by the Edict of Worms, which made him a hero even more than he already was in Germany—one big reason that Protestantism caught on so quickly.

He was a monk, professor of theology at Wittenberg, and he was disturbed by the way the Catholic Church made money from its people, charging admission to see holy relics, and selling indulgences.

On the eve of All Saints Day in 1517, he posted "95 Theses" attacking indulgences and other church practices, nailed it to the door of his church. The pamphlets caused a great sensation. At the time, they were translated from Latin into German. Hundreds of copies were printed up on a printing press.

In 1520, Luther published even more controversial writings attacking papal authority, and the whole structure of the church. He called the Roman church "the most licentious den of thieves, the most shameless of brothels, the kingdom of sin."

And so in April of 1521, he was called before a legal assembly of the Holy Roman Empire in the city of Worms—a city where he was greeted by the common people as a hero. He was ordered by the emperor to recant. He said that his conscience was captive to the word of God, and he could not recant anything. Whereupon, he went into hiding, began translating the Bible into German, (a translation still in use today in Germany) which helped unify the many different German dialects into one common language.

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