Of Daffodils and Poetry

April is the sweetest month for hopeless romantics with a penchant for all things spring. Add National Poetry Month to the calendar, and it’s enough to make this former literature teacher swoon.

A perfect spring day allowed me to take my classes outside to teach among the birds and the bees and eighth grade hormones in full bloom. There’s nothing quite like reading poetry with youthful hearts inspired by dreamy talk of life and love. My teaching days are behind me now, but I hope you’ll indulge me this month as I celebrate two of my favorite things ~ springtime and poetry!

As familiar yellow flowers pop up to say hello, I’m reminded of a beloved poem by William Wordsworth. A founder of English Romanticism, Wordsworth had an affinity for the natural world and was deeply concerned about the human relationship to nature, especially given the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution.

His poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, reminds us we live in a world of dancing daffodils and twinkling stars! Nature, Wordsworth implies, offers us wealth worth far more than money. And when we’re feeling a little lonely or sad, just contemplating the Earth’s beauty can bring us peace and pleasure. On a deeper level, the poem reveals a sense that nature is but a glimpse of heaven.

I hope you enjoy Wordsworth’s timeless poem, commonly known as Daffodils, and his use of that wonderful word jocund as much as I do! §

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud  

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed and gazed but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils. ❤

~ William Wordsworth, 1804

 

 

Steel Magnolias

I grew up in a small Midwest town on Magnolia Avenue, named for the tree that graced the entrance to our modest neighborhood. Every year, we waited for our magnolia to announce spring’s arrival by bursting into a profusion of pink and white blossoms and spritzing the whole neighborhood with its delicious perfume. I loved that tree, that neighborhood, and the memories that come flooding back when I catch a whiff of its familiar fragrance.

As an adult, I lived in Tallahassee, Florida where southern magnolias decorated the landscape with bold silky white flowers. The magnolia of my childhood was a saucer magnolia, commonly known as a tulip tree, and it was just as lovely. In fact, there are more than 200 species of magnolias. Not only are they the essence of delicate beauty, they are also tenacious survivors, hence the term steel magnolias.

Fossilized specimens date back to 95 million years ago. Magnolias have adapted to changing geographical regions and climates, and some magnolias are thought to live up to 300 years. To avoid damage from pollination, the magnolia’s carpels are extremely strong and durable. A carpel, by the way, is the female part of the flower.

It was on Magnolia Avenue that I first learned lessons from my mother and her coterie of friends that have stayed with me until this day. They were, and still are, my steel magnolias. I still think of them as youthful middle-aged women, even though I am nearing sixty. They collectively taught me lessons I can only hope I passed on to my daughter and the thousands of young women who sat in my classroom.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in my hometown. On a drive through the old neighborhood, I was thrilled to see our magnolia tree was still there and just beginning to bud. Rooted at the base of that tree are lessons of my youth. It’s not too late to revisit them and renew my resolve to cultivate the traits of a steel magnolia.

Grace. Grace is defined as simple elegance, refinement of movement, and courteous goodwill. My mother and her friends are never tacky. They speak, dress, move, and act with a natural and simple elegance. More importantly, they treat others politely and with kindness.

Loyalty. Just as we could depend on our magnolia tree to bloom each spring, my mother and her friends could always count on each other. They’ve seen one another through good times and bad, sickness and health, sadness and celebration.

Dignity. Growing up, the kids in our neighborhood loved to climb trees, but we never climbed the magnolia tree. In hindsight, I suppose we respected it the way we respected the moms and older ladies who lived in our neighborhood. They garnered our deference by consistently behaving in an honorable, dignified manner.

Wisdom. The magnolia innately knows when and how to grow, bloom, and rest without advice from anyone. My mother and her friends not only ran households, but also managed companies, classrooms, committees, and campaigns. Perhaps it’s woman’s intuition or sage wisdom, but they’re smart chicks who never play dumb.

Beauty. Magnolia blossoms come in a myriad of colors and shapes, and each one is a beauty. Since I was a young girl, I’ve admired my mom and her friends’ attractiveness. They took pride in how they presented themselves, their homes, and their work. They had a special way of adding a dash of flair to everything they did.

Strength. A steel magnolia possesses an admirable combination of femininity and fortitude. Call her brave, plucky, resilient, intrepid, or one tough cookie, she has the strength of mind and spirit to endure pain and adversity with courage. As Annelle Dupuy Desoto resolutely said in the play, Steel Magnolias, “Miss Truvy, I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.” §

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Under the Same Stars

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. For as long as I can remember, I’ve made a wish on the first star I see at night. This week, I will make a wish for a ten-year-old boy who lives in a small village in Uganda.

When I was a child, my wishes were those of a child. As I got older, they became less self-centered and foolish. Eventually, most of my wishes turned to prayers for the health and happiness of the people I love. After my children went out on their own, I found it comforting to know they might look up in the sky and wish upon the very same star as I.

Several years ago, my husband and I began sponsoring a little boy named Pascal through Compassion International, a humanitarian aid organization. I love knowing he, too, is under the same blanket of stars.

Pascal lives with his brothers, sisters, and mother, who has been ill for some time. His home has been described as a small shelter cobbled together with discarded materials. Fortunately, Pascal and many of the children in his village are able to attend a church-sponsored school.

I don’t know if Pascal understands he lives in poverty. If so, his smiling school photos and drawings of himself playing soccer, laughing with friends, and helping his mother belie the fact. When I find myself wishing for material things or for even more ease in my life, I think of Pascal and the three billion people who live in poverty on our planet.

There’s a quote I turn to when my life seems inadequate, when advertisements, HGTV, and social media make me feel small and envious. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself. Tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches. For to the creator, there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”

Rilke’s words shame me. I keep the quote close at hand, just in case I need to snap out of it.

I sent a birthday card to Pascal, which an interpreter will help him read. I asked him to look up at the night sky. “Remember that you and I are on the same planet, under the same sky, looking up at the same stars,” I wrote. “I am making a special wish upon one of those stars for your birthday and always.”

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. §

 

More about Compassion International ~ When you sponsor a child through Compassion International, you become the single sponsor of a specific child. You get updated pictures and profiles of your child and can exchange letters. Your monthly donation of $38, as well as birthday and Christmas gifts, can be automatically withdrawn from your bank account. (Trust me, you won’t even miss it.) Your donations help your child’s local church provide medical care, education, nutritious meals, and other needs. More importantly, through your sponsorship, children like Pascal receive hope and love. To find out more about sponsoring a child through Compassion International, go to http://www.compassion.com/Child/Sponsorship.      

 

Parking Lot Rainbows

Most of us have had the chance to visit a place of magnificent beauty. Maybe you stood in awe at the edge of the Grand Canyon, watched dolphins frolic in ocean waves, hiked to a waterfall on a snowcapped mountain, or gazed at the northern lights. Those experiences become etched in our memory and remind us of the grandeur of our world, but natural beauty can be found almost anywhere. The wise and wonderful Maya Angelou wrote, “Open your eyes to the beauty around you. Open your mind to the wonders of life.”

I recently ran into the grocery store in a cold, driving rain. I struggled to control my umbrella as the wind blew it inside out. Sloshing and shivering through the aisles, the shoppers’ expressions looked as worn and tired as their winter coats. When I left the store, I was stunned to see the sky awash in a surreal post-storm glow and a full rainbow stretch over rows and rows of dirty cars. The parking lot was filled with people who stopped their carts and smiled heavenward.

Just this week, a surprise gift from nature brought comfort and joy to my mom and me. After 24-hours in the emergency room, she was taken by ambulance to a hospital an hour away. I followed in my car, accompanied by an immense orange sun that transformed the sky into an entertaining show of vibrant color until dramatically sinking into a cornfield. When I met my mom in her hospital room she quietly said, “Did you see the sunset? I watched it all the way here through the ambulance window.” In a time of distress, my mother chose to open her eyes to the beauty around her. I feel sure such a positive attitude will help her heal after unexpected surgeries.

There are natural wonders of the world that you and I may never see. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Africa’s Victoria Falls, and the Himalaya’s Mount Everest probably won’t become entries in my travel journal, but there are still amazing everyday sights to be seen.

In her book Open Your Eyes, Alexandra Stoddard wrote, “I’ve found most people go through life half blind. Few really know how to see and as a result are unaware of the majesty and beauty around them. But seeing can be learned, and to those who learn to see well, the world becomes an entirely different place. ”

As we make our way through our days, we can look for natural wonders wherever we may find ourselves. Daisies pushing through sidewalk cracks, chickadees singing on porch railings, clouds in the shape of a heart, and parking lot rainbows seem to show up when most needed to bring happiness, encouragement, and hope to those who open their eyes. §

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Seeing the World As an Artist

Around this time of year, I always seem to find myself in desperate need of a trip to the art museum. I long to bask in the warmth of my favorite Impressionist paintings bursting with the sunny colors of nature. I was recently at the Indianapolis Museum of Art admiring paintings cheerfully named Afternoon Tea, Poppies, and Early Morning Sunshine. How I wished I could hang one in our home, but I settled for a few gift shop postcards and some valuable lessons from the Impressionists.

Let nature inspire. No one was more inspired by nature than the Impressionists. The movement began with a few Parisian artists who went to the countryside to capture the transient effects of sunlight. The idea of painting en plein air, or outdoors, was a dramatic departure from painting in studios. Claude Monet said, “The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration.”

Appreciate ordinary moments. Impressionists painted candid glimpses of everyday people at work and play ~ a bowl of fruit, friends having lunch, a walk in the garden. Their work is a reminder to appreciate the significance and beauty in everyday rituals and pastimes.

Color your world. “Color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life,” said Vincent Van Gogh. The Impressionists valued pure, brilliant, and saturated pigments. They developed a method of painting that celebrated light, movement, and vibrant color. Especially in the winter, color can brighten our days.

Loosen up a little. Impressionism was spontaneous and informal in style and subject. The artists broke away from serious historical and mythological themes. Instead, they freely painted contemporary subjects with visible, colorful brush strokes that weren’t carefully blended or shaded. The result was a joyful impression of real life.

Be open to new ideas. The Impressionists, who preferred to be called Independents, faced harsh opposition and criticism from the established art community. They were considered radicals who broke every rule of the French Academy of Fine Arts. Rejected by the Salon de Paris, the annual state-sponsored art show, the artists held their own show in 1874. As it turned out, they were on to something the art world would eventually embrace.

Make it pretty. Perhaps what draws me most to Impressionism is an underlying philosophy about creating a beautiful life. Pierre-Auguste Renoir said, “To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty! There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.”

As I go through my week, I hope to incorporate these Impressionists’ ideas into my daily round. If gloomy weather or gray thoughts cloud my thinking, the postcard of Monet’s Water Lilies displayed on my piano will remind me to view the world as an artist celebrating dazzling colors, light, and beauty. §

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