Saturday, December 27, 2014

Poetry from the past at Christmas

It's been some time, and then some more, since I've been really surprised by a Christmas present. I mean before this year. The Daughter Person, aided and abetted, no doubt, by her New Husband, gave me a chapbook of poetry. She managed to find it at a local Historical Society and sneak it past my nose the evening we all went to the Taylors Falls Christmas lighting festival. No doubt I was busy taking photos of things like a one man crosscut saw while she was being devious and surreptitious and creative.

Taylors Falls Historical Society exhibit
Taylors Falls Historical Society exhibit
Photo by J. Harrington

Someone named Teresa Kelly O'Reilly, whose family came from Boston, wrote Valley of St. Croix and Other Poems. It's copyright 1937 and was published as a saddle-stiched chapbook in St. Paul. Illustrations are by Rose M. Lyon and remind me of the work of someone I've long admired, Francis Lee Jacques. Contained within the book is a reference to a rock outcrop known as Old Man of the Dalles. I hadn't heard mention of it/him previously, despite living in this area for a number of years and recently starting research on a book that will be, in part, about the St. Croix Valley. More than almost anything else, the fact that the Daughter person was knowing and caring enough to realize how much I'd enjoy the book, and sneaky enough to keep me from noticing her picking it up when we were at the Historical Society, so she could surprise me on Christmas morning, made this Christmas a very special one. It helped me get in touch with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, always, as Scrooge learned, something to be treasured.

Oh Lovely Rock

By Robinson Jeffers 
We stayed the night in the pathless gorge of Ventana Creek, up the east fork.
The rock walls and the mountain ridges hung forest on forest above our heads, maple and redwood,
Laurel, oak, madrone, up to the high and slender Santa Lucian firs that stare up the cataracts
Of slide-rock to the star-color precipices.

                                                                  We lay on gravel and kept a little camp-fire for warmth.
Past midnight only two or three coals glowed red in the cooling darkness; I laid a clutch of dead bay-leaves
On the ember ends and felted dry sticks across them and lay down again. The revived flame
Lighted my sleeping son’s face and his companion’s, and the vertical face of the great gorge-wall
Across the stream. Light leaves overhead danced in the fire’s breath, tree-trunks were seen: it was the rock wall
That fascinated my eyes and mind. Nothing strange: light-gray diorite with two or three slanting seams in it,
Smooth-polished by the endless attrition of slides and floods; no fern nor lichen, pure naked if I were
Seeing rock for the first time. As if I were seeing through the flame-lit surface into the real and bodily
And living rock. Nothing strange...I cannot
Tell you how strange: the silent passion, the deep nobility and childlike loveliness: this fate going on
Outside our fates. It is here in the mountain like a grave smiling child. I shall die, and my boys
Will live and die, our world will go on through its rapid agonies of change and discovery; this age will die,
And wolves have howled in the snow around a new Bethlehem: this rock will be here, grave, earnest, not passive: the energies
That are its atoms will still be bearing the whole mountain above: and I, many packed centuries ago,
Felt its intense reality with love and wonder, this lonely rock.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.