Close In

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.
Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.
Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own. — David Whyte

This beautiful poem has been on my mind this week. Everywhere I turn, I am reminded to start close in.

Spring Beauties

I dream of a quiet man
who explains nothing and defends
nothing, but only knows
where the rarest wild flowers
are blooming, and who goes,
and finds that he is smiling
not by his own will.

— Wendell Berry
“Given: Poems,” Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005

Learning Shakespeare

Have you discovered the book “How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare” by Ken Ludwig? I brought it home from the library last fall and it sat in a stack of books, unopened, for three weeks. It wasn’t the right time. Or maybe I was intimated by the thought of Shakespeare? Where to begin with Shakespeare?

Well, I brought it home again last week. And this time I managed to open it up on my lap on a quiet Sunday morning when everyone else was still asleep. The result? I’m hooked! I love it. We’re learning Shakespeare. Memorizing it!

I love Ken Ludwig’s philosophy and his emphasis on the importance of hearing Shakespeare’s poetry aloud and memorizing passages with your children. He writes:

“With Shakespeare, memorizing is the key to everything. . . In order to memorize something, you have to be very specific and very honest with yourself. You have to work slowly, and you have to understand every word of what you’re memorizing. There was a time not long ago when memorization was considered to be one of the basic tools of an academic education. Students were expected to learn hundreds of lines from the Greek and Roman classics, then, later, from poetry in their native tongues. This tradition has faded from our lives, and something powerful has been lost.” (p. 6 & 8)

Reading this I realized how much memorization was part of my own education — and yet I hadn’t thought about it much before. So many choir songs; solos; lines in middle-school and high-school plays; passages from the Bible; and French! Oh, the French memorization I did in college was endless.

But when I studied Shakespeare in high school, it was all in written form. Always read silently, to myself. Never spoken — let alone memorized. And so the thought of learning Shakespeare through memorization, right from the beginning, was completely new to me — and yet it felt absolutely right. And so we dove right in with A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows . . .”

18 — 22 :: Go Dark

Amidst a great deal of talk about our country this week: the transition in leadership; the grace of President Obama as he left office; the inaugural address; what it means to be trustworthy; the importance of our words; the value of integrity and respect . . . While all the while wondering what we can do, in our relatively quiet part of the world, to reach out to our neighbors . . . there was a whole lot of quiet work (and play) happening in our home.

January feels very dark. Not just this year, but especially this year, I feel a heaviness that I cannot shake. I do not know if I should try harder to shake it or try to sit with it. But when I sit here, trying to enter in, fully, to the weight of this darkness, I find myself simultaneously celebrating life — life and the joy that is so very present in each day shared with our beautiful children. Their curiosity. Their wonder. Their questions. Their pureness of heart. This is light.

I think of this poem by Wendell Berry (forgive me if I have quoted this recently. It has really been on my mind.)

To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, Counterpoint, 1998: p. 68.

Did Wendell Berry march in the Woman’s March yesterday (or would he have in his younger days)?
Does he outwardly protest? Or inwardly? Or both?
Does he speak out in body? And on paper?
In the light? Or in the dark?

3 :: Just a Spark

A little reminder to myself as we enter back into our homeschooling this week:

“Do not try to satisfy your vanity by teaching a great many things. Awaken people’s curiosity. It is enough to open minds; do not overload them. Put there just a spark. If there is some good inflammable stuff, it will catch fire.” — Anatole France

(Included in “The Earth Speaks,” edited by Steve Van Matre and Bill Weiler, 1983)

363 :: Enter In

“All the prophets were poets. And if you don’t know that, you try to literalize everything and make shambles out of it. A metaphor is really remarkable kind of formation, because it both means what it says and what it doesn’t say. And so those two things come together, and it creates an imagination which is active. You’re not trying to figure things out; you’re trying to enter into what’s there.”

— Eugene Peterson
(From an interview with Krista Tippett, onbeing, December 26, 2016)

I am outside at dusk.
It is cold.
And quiet.

Here we are,
in winter now,
wrapped in her cold, white beauty
she holds us

She beckons to us — silently
she invites us
to enter in
to the cold,
the stark,
the dark.

in winter.

348 :: Singing Him to Sleep

I am listening to an onbeing podcast episode with composer, conductor, and teacher, Alice Parker. It is so very lovely. And it makes me feel so very happy about the hours I’ve spent singing to my children. And with my children. And, especially, singing them to sleep.

Here is a bit of the transcript:

MS. PARKER: Yes. And watching those tiny babies develop, it just gave me this absolute conviction that babies — that’s the language of babies. That’s what they’re born knowing. From their first utterance, it’s all singing. And it takes a long time to learn the language, learn the words, and how to communicate from their brain.

And there was nothing that I loved that I could sing to them that they didn’t love and sing back because the trade that’s going on is not learning a song; it is human communication at its most elemental level, from the mother to baby, wordless hum or something like that. Which also leads me to conclude that song predates language, and that the first way that humans communicate is with vocal sound, which is much closer to song than it is to thought-out, measured, rational language.

MS. TIPPETT: Sentences. Bobby McFerrin once said to me — he said he suspected that we sang before we spoke.

MS. PARKER: I’m certain that that’s true.

MS. TIPPETT: Because we do — we talk a lot, and there’s a lot of study of how we learn language and the kind of elemental template in us, however that functions. And for you to point out which — we don’t need any scientist to prove this to us, right? That singing also emerges, that sound emerges just as naturally. It’s a possession almost.

MS. PARKER: It is. It’s one of the things that we’re born with. And it’s the great international, inter-everything language because it’s dealing with our inner emotional life. It’s as if singing is the language of the emotions. And it’s our intuitive life as opposed to our rational life. And we live in a society that has glorified rationality.


341 :: Let them be Left


It is dark. I am in bed listening to David Whyte read a poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins, written in the late 1800s. I am in awe that this poem, written in a land across the ocean, over a hundred years ago, can reach my ears just now, in this place. The last stanza leaves me breathless.

33. Inversnaid

This darksome burn,* horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

— Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), Poems: 1918.

(*a burn is a river)

David Whyte, in his reflection on this poem, talks about a radical letting alone of the self — a part of you which is not meant to be spoken of, but which accompanies you, like a friend who holds you in his or her mind through thousands of miles of distance or time, no matter where you travel in the world.

I fall asleep to these thoughts. And my dreams carry me away to the wildness I know and love — the wildness I will never truly know but will always deeply love.