Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Concord Days

'A house, without garden or orchard, is unfinished, incomplete, does not fulfill our ideas of the homestead, but stands isolate, defiant in its individualism, with a savage, slovenly air, and distance, that lacks softening and blending with the surrounding landscape.' A. Bronson Alcott, Concord Days

     A bit extreme, I think. I hardly think a house without a garden looks 'savage' or 'slovenly,' but we must bear in mind that Bronson Alcott was wont to compare others to himself and usually find them wanting; and he was an avid gardener. Again, a bit extreme, but I can empathize: I love flowers, and have pots on my back steps planted with peas, beans, lettuce and squash.

      In his essay 'Berries' Alcott includes William Ellery Channing's poem Our Blueberry Swamp, which is a clear example of the love both men had for the New England woodlands they came from.

Our Blueberry Swamp

   ~W.E. Channing

 Orange groves mid-tropic lie,

Festal for the Spaniard's eye,

And the red pomegranate grows

Where the luscious southwest blows;

Myrrh and spikenard in the East

Multiply the Persian's feast,

And our northern wilderness

Boasts its fruits our lips to bless.

Wouldst enjoy a magic sight,

And so heal vexations spite?

Hasten to my blueberry swamp, --

Green o'erhead the wild bird's camp;

Here in thickets bending low,

Thickly piled the blueberries grow,

Freely spent on youth and maid,

In the swamp's cooling shade,

Pluck the clusters plump and full,

Handful after handful pull!

Choose which path, the fruitage hangs, --

Fear no more the gripping fangs

Of the garden's spaded stuff, --

This is healthy, done enough.

Pull away! the afternoon

Dies beyond the meadow soon.

Art thou a good citizen?

Move into a blueberry fen;

Here are leisure, wealth, and ease,

Sure thy taste and thought to please,

Drugged with nature's spicy tunes,

Hummed upon the summer noons.

Rich is he that asks no more

Than of blueberries a store,

Who can snatch the clusters off,

Pleased with himself and them enough.

Fame? -- the chickadee is calling; --

Love? -- the fat pine cones are falling;

Heaven? -- the berries in the air; --

Eternity -- their juice so rare.

And if thy sorrows will not fly,

Then get thee down and softly die.

In the eddy of the breeze,

Leave the world beneath those trees,

And the purple runnel's tune

Melodize thy mossy swoon.


 'But for letters the best of our life would hardly survive the mood and the moment.' A. Bronson Alcott

      What would Alcott make of the world of today, where letters are rarely exchanged, and hurried emails and slang-filled texts are the norm? Letter-writing is a lost art; I had to teach my older children how to write letters as it is no longer part of any (public) school English curriculum. I don't know if my step-children know how to write letters; really, they're so tech-savvy they would probably view it as a weird waste of time. My children get it, perhaps only because they live with a writer.

  When is the last time you received a letter in the mail? Not a piece of business mail, but an honest-to-goodness personal letter, chatty, full of news both interesting and amusing? Same here.


 'Books' (oh, how I love them!):

 ' morsel is more delicious than a ripe book, a book whose flavor is as refreshing at the thousandth tasting as at the first.'

 'The best books appeal to the deepest in us and answer the demand.'

 '...the sight of them, the knowledge that they are within reach, accessible at any moment, rewards me when I invite their company.'


     In his essay on 'Women,' (heaven help us!) Alcott states that 'The ancient philosophers had so good an opinion of the sex, that they ascribed all sciences to the Muses, all sweetness and morality to the Graces, and prophetic inspiration to the Sybils.' While these roles and titles may be true, it is worth noting that the ancient philosophers in fact were outrageous misogynists, Plato one of the first among these ranks.


      Alcott includes an essay on the minister Henry Ward Beecher; short, but lavish and sincere in its praise for the sermons and delivery of his homily to his congregation.

     There are several more essays in this collection; I have only included thoughts on a very small fraction. I have heard Bronson Alcott's book Tablets is also worth reading, but I'm going to wait on that until I've completed this summer's planned list; then I'll go looking for this, as well as a biography of Mary Anning, Rachel Carson (as well as her Silent Spring), and a biography of Margaret Fuller. (I own her Woman in the Nineteenth Century.)


No comments:

Post a Comment