Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If a tree falls in the woods and no one................

I can see already that this is probably going to be a lonely exercise in self indulgence. My daughter Jennifer just passed on kudos for my becoming a blogger. But am I. If I write pages and pages of incredibly insightful prose, and no one reads them does that still make me a blogger? Oh well, I suppose I will just have to be satisfied with being a diarist and hope that one day after I am gone someone will discover this site, force open the lock, and discover the pearls of wisdom I wrote to myself.

In the meantime I must not lose sight of the true purpose of blog which is to honor Catherine LeDuke. I think I'll start by telling the story that actually got me going in this direction.

A few days ago my wife Marty and I were talking about Mother and she remembered a poem that she had heard Mother reciting several years ago. Marty liked the poem so much that she asked Mother to keep repeating it until she had copied it down. She went directly to the special spot where she has been keeping this poem and brought it to me so that I could look up the poem on the internet and see how accurately Mother had recited it and how closely Marty had copied.

It turned out that both had done a great job. The poem is a four sonnet work by George Santayana entitled "To. W. P." I haven't figured out who W. P. is yet but I guess I should just in case there is a story in that to be told. The recited portion was the second sonnet which starts out; "With you a part of me hath passed away". I will include the entire 14 line sonnet at the end of this posting.

Marty expressed that she liked the poem because it touched her and she wanted to have it read at my funeral. I suppose it should concern me that she was planning my eulogy, but since the original reciting and copying exercise took place about 5 years ago, I have decided not to start having my coffee analyzed for poisons.

The next day I called Mother to see how she was doing and during the call I mentioned the conversation Marty had just had concerning her. She of course did not remember the incident. In fact Mother rarely knows what she ate for breakfast on any given day or for that matter who she is talking to at the time she is talking.

But in spite of her memory lapses she remains gracious and thoughtful to her caller (or visitor) and expressed interest in knowing what a poem was and what poem she had recited. I started reading the poem and before I had finished the first line she had taken over. She was amazing. I prompted her only once as she recited clearly the entire poem:

With you a part of me hath passed away;
For in the peopled forest of my mind
A tree made leafless by this wintry wind
Shall never don again its green array.
Chapel and fireside, country road and bay,
Have something of their friendliness resigned;
Another, if I would, I could not find,
And I am grown much older in a day.
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, your mellow ease,
And the dear honour of your amity;
For these once mine, my life is rich with these.
And I scarce know which part may greater be; -
What I keep of you, or you rob of me.

There should not be a dry eye in the house at this time. If there is, read again this poem slowly line for line as if you were in Mother's English class. It clearly references James Neville.

There is so much still sloshing around in Mother's head. I have a new mission now; to read a poem or two each time I call. I did this already last night and true to form she recited with me two familiar poems. And she seemed to enjoy the exercise so very much.

So I encourage each of you as you visit Mother in the future, as so many of you do so much more regularly than I, to take a little extra time before you go and select a poem or two, or a page or two from a familiar book or play. Read slowly and distinctly to Mother and be amazed as I have been at the Catherine LeDuke that will light up before your watery eyes.

And be thankful that this teacher taught you to appreciate the written word and that all sonnets have 14 lines by definition.

Jimmy LeDuke

1 comment:

  1. My father held a drinking contest every Friday night while a student at Duke: it was based in some way on who could quote the most poetry. He spent his years memorizing poems rather than studying economics, as was claimed on his diploma.
    Tennyson, Kipling, Poe. The heroic and the sentimental. I grew up hearing him sing and recite his most beloved rhymes, always heavily metered and full of drama.
    Your mom sounds like a champ. I look forward to more of your memories of her, and am glad you have found a way to connect with her. She has a beautiful name.