Saturday, April 20, 2013

Project R.L.S. #1 ~ Some Stevenson Suprises

Robert Louis Stevenson, being the wonderfully versatile writer he is, never fails to surprise and delight me. In my first official "Project R.L.S." post I'll share two Stevenson surprises that I enjoyed this week. The first is a short poem that I read today; the second is a very unique letter that I discovered exploring around on the Internet on Wednesday.

I do not know the title of this poem, but I thought it lovely. I found in included in the entry on Stevenson in a beautiful old set of children's Compton's Encyclopedia that we have. The poem is brief, so I'll share the whole thing:

If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness;
If I have moved among my race
And shown no glorious morning face;
If beams from happy human eyes
Have moved me not; if morning skies,
Books, and my food, and summer rain
Knocked on my sullen heart in vain:--
Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take
And stab my spirit broad awake;
Or, Lord, if too obdurate I,
Choose thou, before that spirit die,
A piercing pain, a killing sin,
And to my dead heart run them in.

Splendid, isn't it? It's Stevenson glorying in the small and vital things of life. He often does, of course, but here my favorite line is, "Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take / And stab my spirit broad awake"!  Note the sudden movement from "pointed" to "broad"--the contrast is breathtaking. And there is also a poignancy in the image of the soul being stabbed by the Lord--slain by His beauty and love. But it is only our old, dull life that is really slain, for we are now "broad awake" in the new life of God.

My second Stevenson encounter was no less splendid. The other day on I discovered a piece by Stevenson called "Father Damien: An Open Letter to the Reverend Dr. Hyde of Honolulu". The title piqued my interest, especially as the said Father Damien, of Molokai, was only recently declared a saint.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Glorious Defense

Seige of the Roundhouse, from Kidnapped. N.C. Wyeth
Battle of Glen Falls, from The Last of the Mohicans. N.C. Wyeth

The latest book that I'm reading for my Great Books program in homeschool is The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore CooperI'm very glad to be able to read a novel for school--and an adventure novel at that!--after working through Descartes and the Federalist Papers!

Today in Mohicans I read the chapters where Hawk-eye the frontier scout, his Indian friends, and Major Heyward are defending their island hideout at Glen Falls against Iroquois warriors. The scene, though written in prose that's over-fancy and romantic by novel standards today, is incredibly exciting. (By the way, I haven't finished it yet, so nobody tell me what happens, please...) And it reminded me instantly of another "siege scene" from that favorite book of mine, Kidnapped. Not just the situation, but even some of the dialogue rang familiar. Compare these two quotes, the first from Hawk-eye, the second from Alan:

"Freshen the priming of your pistols--the mist of the falls is apt to dampen the brimstone--and stand firm for a close struggle, while I fire on their rush." (The Last of the Mohicans, Chapter VII)

"And now," said Alan, "let your hand keep your head, for the grip is coming." (Kidnapped, Chapter X)

Or try these two:

"You believe, then, the attack will be renewed?" asked Heyward.
"Do I expect a hungry wolf will satisfy his craving with a mouthful! They have lost a man, and 'tis their fashion, when they meet a loss, and fail in the surprise, to fall back; but we shall have them on again...." (The Last of the Mohicans, Chapter VII)

"No, there's not enough blood let; they'll be back again. To your watch, David. This was but a dram before meat." (Kidnapped, Chapter X)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Stop and Smell the Grass

The past few days have finally been getting into the 60's after a very cold, slow spring so far. Usually by April our yard would be half-covered with dandelions already going to seed, but this year the grass is only just starting to green. Yesterday I was hanging out in the backyard after a two-hour bike ride/romp with my brother and sister in our neighborhood prairie park. I just didn't feel like going inside yet, so I lay down on the ground with my face close to the grass. I could see the new emerald blades pushing their way through last year's dead ones. I spotted a single tiny fresh dandelion plant, without any buds yet. Once a brown leafhopper--a harmless little, arrowhead-shaped insect, small enough to perch easily on the point of a pencil--hopped onto my hand. I was close enough to see the miniscule streaks of white and tan on its body.

But most of all I loved the smell of the grass. I've always found the scent of grass or hay sort of sweet, filling, peaceful, and invigorating all at once, but this day I particularly relished it, because I hadn't smelled it for months. It was a very little thing, but it made the day lovely.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Fellow Adventurer

Outside the sky is gray and a gusty spring rain is falling. A good day to read a book!

I thought I'd start out this blog by sharing a poem I wrote a little over a year ago. Essentially it's my ode to adventure stories. The authors I refer to include Henryk Sienkiewicz, J.R.R. Tolkien, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Baroness Emmuska Orczy. So, here goes...and welcome aboard, fellow adventurers!

A Prose Poem
By Mary Jessica Woods

Some say that books are “their escape”.
I tend to disagree.
A good book's not a paradise,
Or relaxation spree.
When I pick up a book, do I
Just sit back and enjoy?
No! I'm a fellow adventurer!
Sharing both sorrows and joys.
By Robin Hood's side I crouch and hide,
As he calls to his merry men,
And behind Prince Yeremi I thunder and ride,
Trailing Tartars through steppe and glen.
I weep with the whole of Valinor,
As the elves at the Kinslaying fall,
And chant old riddles with Bilbo,
An untimely end to forestall.
With Sherlock Holmes I observe the world,
A detective's trade to learn,
And with Phileas Fogg I travel it,
Making time at every turn.
The Count of Monte Cristo stands
Aloof in vengeful thought,
I follow the workings of his plans,
The good and the evil they brought.