The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

Poem for Sunday


From "The Volunteer's Thanksgiving"
By Lucy Larcom


The last days of November, and everything so green!
A finer bit of country my eyes have never seen.
'Twill be a thing to tell of, ten years or twenty hence,
How I came down to Georgia at Uncle Sam's expense.

Four years ago this winter, up at the district school,
I wrote all day, and ciphered, perched on a white-pine stool;
And studied in my atlas the boundaries of the States,
And learnt the wars with England, the history and the dates.

~ ~ ~

They're sitting at the table this clear Thanksgiving noon;
I smell the crispy turkey, the pies will come in soon --
The golden squares of pumpkins, the flaky rounds of mince,
Behind the barberry syrups, the cranberry and the quince.

Be sure my mouth does water, but then I am content
To stay and do the errand on which I have been sent.
A soldier mustn't grumble at salt beef and hard-tack:
We'll have a grand Thanksgiving, if ever we get back!

I'm very sure they'll miss me at dinner time to-day,
For I was good at stowing their provender away.
When mother clears the table, and wipes the platters bright,
She'll say, "I hope my baby don't lose his appetite!"

~ ~ ~

Oh, dear! the Southern air grows sultry. I'd wish myself at home
Were it a whit less noble, the cause for which I've come
Four years ago a school-boy; as foolish now as then!
But greatly they don't differ, I fancy, boys and men.

I'm just nineteen to-morrow, and I shall surely stay
For freedom's final battle, be it until I'm gray,
Unless a Southern bullet should take me off my feet.
There's nothing left to live for, if Rebeldom should beat;

For home and love and honor and freedom are at stake,
And life may well be given for our dear Union's sake;
So reads the Proclamation, and so the sermon ran;
Do ministers and people feel it as soldiers can?

When will it all be ended? 'Tis not in youth to hold
In quietness and patience, like people grave and old:
A year? three? four? or seven? -- O then, when I return,
Put on a big log, mother, and let it blaze and burn,

And roast your fattest turkey, bake all the pies you can,
And if she isn't married, invite in Mary Ann!
Hang flags from every window! we'll all be glad and gay,
For Peace will light the country on that Thanksgiving Day.

--------

From Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World, excerpts taken by Robert Pinsky from Larcom's long Thanksgiving poem about a Union soldier during the Civil War. "Larcom was nothing like a great poet, but she was a competent writer," writes Pinsky. "After reciting the menu to himself, [the teenage narrator] imagines the people. An abolitionist who both taught and worked in New England textile mills, Larcom is confident and specific about the cause for which her boyish soldier is willing to die." Pinsky calls the poem "poignant though formulaic" and says it "belongs to a period when poetry met a need more likely to be filled today by popular entertainment. Its limitations are pretty clear. The Emancipation Proclamation loses some of its force by being linked to a series of over-spacious abstract nouns -- 'home and love and honor and freedom' -- just as 'blaze and burn' are synonyms filling out a line. But Larcom manages to communicate the conviction of her young soldier, and her own. That conviction, and the simple terms of the poem's closing lines, generate real emotion, in part because the phrase 'we'll all be glad and gay' is shadowed by doubt -- and by the unprecedented violence of the Civil War."

Greatly enjoyed Happy Feet, which was the main event of our day. Not sure I'd call it a great film -- like Space Cowboys for instance it feels like two films glommed together, and I can't figure out if the filmmaker had a serious message film he wanted to make and required the singing and dancing to do so or if the singing and dancing was the initial impetus and the filmmaker wanted to inject some redeeming social value. The last 15 minutes are very surreal, and in fact I considered the possibility that it was all supposed to be a dream told by the guru Lovelace rather than something that actually happened, but the framing narrative's not consistent enough to bear that out.

I did love the adorable penguin chick section, which anthropomorphized them to only a slightly greater degree than March of the Penguins when it comes right down to it (the notion that animal mating is equivalent to humans falling in love is highly questionable, and their "feelings" about their bonds with their children are hard to draw parallels with ours, given that they will abandon children to starvation or ingestion without exhibiting anything like the reaction most human parents would have in such situations). So I was perfectly willing to take the fiction as such -- Mumble, the son of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, has rhythm but can't sing, hee! And everyone grooves to R&B, Latin and post-disco dance music even though there are no African-American voice actors and the most prominent Hispanic penguin is played by Robin Williams.

I am a total sucker for allegories for growing up gay, which this definitely was for a time -- Mumble can't fit in and find a woman to settle down with, and though he has little trouble accepting himself and hooking up with a bunch of penguins from elsewhere who love him as he is, his father pressures him first to be like everyone else, then to leave, since the Fundamentalists (led by Elrond aka Hugo Weaving, heh) blame him for all the evils in their society. The female roles are distressingly small, and stereotyped; we see no leaders who are women, Norma Jean lets herself be pushed around by the male penguins and Gloria's primary goal in life is to find a heartsong that matches her own. Of course, the Latino roles are stereotyped too.

Anyway, the movie takes a very dark turn about two-thirds of the way through when Mumble decides to figure out what has happened to all the fish disappearing from the seas rather than returning home with his friends, and ends up nearly being killed after a gruesome encounter with a fishing boat. After that, he is taken to a zoo, where he is the only emperor penguin in an enclosure of African and little blue penguins and nearly goes mad from his inability to communicate with humans. The two parts of the movie are merged together by having Mumble communicate via dance -- he attracts so much attention from the humans at the zoo that they free him and put a radio transmitter on him so they can see whether the rest of the emperor penguins can boogie, too -- and ultimately the attention drawn to the plight of the dancing penguins leads to global bans on excessive fish harvesting, which is rather sweet but utterly preposterous. I'm not entirely sure that Mumble ever even made it to human territory, anyway, since it's all narrated by Lovelace, who has promised to tell a hell of a story about his heroics.

My kids loved the movie, and in all the hype I had somehow missed the fact that Steve Irwin voiced one of the elephant seals who warn the penguins that they have little hope of convincing the "aliens" (a.k.a. humans) to stop their abuse of the seas, so that was an added treat. Overall I enjoyed the movie a lot, and my son the penguinologist adored it, but it's definitely more of a ride than I was expecting. ETA: I know now what the zoo sequence reminded me of -- the end of A.I. when David is found by the aliens and allowed to live a single day that he experiences as reality but is in fact a sort of alien holodeck, pure fantasy that changes nothing. It's devastating. That sense of unreality lingered through the end of the movie for me.

I suppose by now everyone has seen the Harry Potter trailer somewhere, and while I was very happy to see that too, I really don't have much to say about it besides mmmmmmmbellatrix; wow, Emma Watson looks good; if I had been directing Daniel Radcliffe yelling "I AM NOT WEAK!", there would have been slightly less obvious capslocking in his performance even if it is canonical; and OMG what is wrong with the producers not to have included in the preview a shot of Lucius Malfoy sitting naked astride a velvet pillow while being worshipped by a throng of admirers? (What do you mean, that didn't happen in the book? It did when I read it; I saw it very clearly.) It's very hard for me to get a sense of anything in a film from a teaser trailer other than everyone's haircuts. In other fannish news, I didn't know whether I was allowed to talk about this or even ask about it yesterday, but now that it's out there: George Takei will play Hiro's father on Heroes. You know, even if I didn't love that show, I would watch for him and Christopher Eccleston.


Historical Chestertown. I think the sign in front of the historic church is pretty self-explanatory.


George Washington slept here -- the site of Worrell's Tavern, where President Washington dined and lodged in 1791 while traveling from Philadelphia.


The White Swan Tavern, a Colonial-era inn now transformed into a bed and breakfast. In 1978, the property was excavated and restored to its 1793 appearance. There's a photo of the artifacts here.


War memorials in the center of town. Chestertown has one for every war fought on American soil and all the wars the US has fought overseas, having sent soldiers to all of them.
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Older son, as expected, went to his best friend's house for the night so they can get up at the crack of dawn and get their Wiis tomorrow, so we took younger son and his best friend out for dinner. They wanted to go to Burger King to get Happy Feet toys, but once we arrived there it transpired that they only wanted the toys, not Burger King food, so with great relief we bought them $1.50 dancing Rauls and then all went out for Thai food. As a result, we missed the end of the Michigan-Ohio State game, but that is just as well since we were rooting for Michigan (my brother-in-law's alma mater, not that that is a reason for rooting for them *veg*), and we saw some of the USC-UCLA game later, interrupted so we could watch Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid on TCM.

This is one of my absolute favorite movies -- it stars Steve Martin as a mediocre detective with clips from lots of classic film noir for his co-stars -- Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Cary Grant (whom Martin's character fears is hitting on him, heh)...a very long list, and brilliantly directed. There's a plot device involving a list of Friends of Carlotta and Enemies of Carlotta, which to this day is how I talk about myself in relation to cliques of people (for instance, I am an Enemy of Carlotta among a certain sect of Snupin writers). My favorite exchange in the whole movie revolves around this, when Rachel Ward as Steve Martin's love interest asks him what FOC means, and he says, "It's a slang word. It's when a man and a woman are in love, and the man puts his..." and she has to stop him and explain that she means F-O-C. (Yes, I am ten.) It's the kind of dialogue where Rachel Ward explains that her sister has been diagnosed as a hypochondriac, but the doctors think she may be faking. Anyway, I highly recommend it.
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