Thursday, December 7, 2017

Do dull tasks

People love to talk but hate to listen. Listening is not merely not talking, though even that is beyond most of our powers; it means taking a vigorous, human interest in what is being told us. You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back fuller and richer.
~Alice Duer Miller

Poems from The White Cliffs by Alice Duer Miller today. The White Cliffs, about an American woman who falls in love with a British soon-to-be-soldier, came out in 1940. The copy I own came out in 1944 and is part of the 34th edition! It sold very well -- 300,000 copies between 1940-44 in the U.S. and 300,000 internationally. Amazing, eh?

The post title comes from "Englishmen
Will serve day after day, obey the law,
And do dull tasks that keep a nation strong."

From The White Cliffs
by Alice Duer Miller


Young and in love--how magical the phrase!
How magical the fact! Who has not yearned
Over young lovers when to their amaze
They fall in love, and find their love returned,
And the lights brighten, and their eyes are clear
To see God's image in their common clay.
Is it the music of the spheres they hear?
Is it the prelude to that noble play,
The drama of Joined Lives? Ah, they forget
They cannot write their parts; the bell has rung,
The curtain rises, and the stage is set
For tragedy--they were in love and young.



When the sun shines on England, it atones
   For low-hung leaden skies, and rain and dim
Moist fogs that paint the verdure on her stones
   And fill her gentle rivers to the brim.

When the sun shines on England, shafts of light
   Fall on far towers and hills and dark old trees,
And hedge-bound meadows of a green as bright--
   As bright as is the blue of tropic seas.

When the sun shines, it is as if the face
   Of some proud man relaxed his haughty stare,
And smiled upon us with a sudden grace,
   Flattering because its coming is so rare.



The English love their country with a love
Steady, and simple, wordless, dignified;
I think it sets their patriotism above
All others. We Americans have pride--
We glory in our country's short romance.
We boast of it and love it. Frenchmen, when
The ultimate menace comes, will die for France
Logically as they lived. But Englishmen
Will serve day after day, obey the law,
And do dull tasks that keep a nation strong.
Once I remember in London how I saw
Pale shabby people standing in a long
Line in the twilight and the misty rain
To pay their tax. I then saw England plain.


After the young lovers are married, and she goes to stay with his mother while he is away at war:


I settled down in Devon,
  When Johnnie went to France.
Such a tame ending
  To a great romance--
Two lonely women
  With nothing much to do
But get to know each other;
  She did and I did, too.
Mornings at the Rectory,
  Learning how to roll
Bandages, and always
  Saving light and coal.
Oh, that house was bitter
  As winter closed in,
In spite of heavy stockings
  And woolen next the skin.
I was cold and wretched,
  And never unaware
Of John more cold and wretched
  In a trench out there.


Steps and Staircases has the Poetry Friday round-up. Thanks, Lisa!


Ruth said...

Oh! I read that book when I was in high school! I haven't thought of it in many years. Thanks for reminding me.

Sally Murphy said...

Thanks for the taster. I haven't come across this one before but now hope that I do.

Kay said...

I didn't know this book. Thank you for the introduction. It looks like the perfect volume to read as I plan a trip to England!

laurasalas said...

Love the descriptions in the second part--and that sense of doom in the first. Haven't heard of this before. Thanks, Tabatha!

jama said...

Thanks for these wonderful excerpts from The White Cliffs (didn't know about it before). Of course I love the English connection. So true how they "love their country with a love/ Steady, and simple, wordless, dignified."

The first quote is SO true. The arts of attentive listening and meaningful conversation are lost on so many today (esp in America).

Linda B said...

My mother had some of these poems, but I don't think I knew they were from a book, Tabatha. They are full of such love, despite the hardship and the time. Thank you for sharing.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

The times, they surely have a-changed since those days of dull tasks and vigorous listening. Thanks for sharing these.

Tara said...

I think this is a book I must have...thanks for this taste of it, Tabatha.

Michelle Kogan said...

Thanks for sharing "The White Cliffs" by Alice Duer Miller, Tabatha. I especially liked the matter-of-fact-writing in her poem about Devon. Miller is new to me, and I look forward to exploring this book some more.

Anonymous said...

Such different voice in these. It is always so satisfying to read and enjoy a poem and then have it resolve so surprisingly perfectly. These both did that.

Carol Varsalona said...

Tabatha, war days were tough for the women back at home. Thanks for providing a glimpse into this book. the line that resonates with me is "The drama of Joined Lives." Have a great holiday.

author amok said...

Section VI resonated with me because of my own childhood visits to England, looking out over the hedge-bound meadows. And section XXVIII -- what a great voice this speaker has. I get a sense of who she is and what she's struggling with.

Brenda at FriendlyFairyTales said...

I remember the hedge-bound meadows seen from a train. When I saw it, the dark old trees were long gone. How beautiful to think about that world, so brave. What trouble was coming. Lovely to think that people weren't afraid of poetry then.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

This is my favorite stanza that you shared:

When the sun shines, it is as if the face
Of some proud man relaxed his haughty stare,
And smiled upon us with a sudden grace,
Flattering because its coming is so rare.

I also love the last part of the quote about listening—the difference between listening like a blank wall and like a splendid auditorium. Such an important difference! The blank wall approach has become so common these days with people's attention on their phones instead on their companions.

Lisa said...

Thank you for sharing this, Tabatha. Yes, listening is an art. These lines stood out for me: "The drama of Joined Lives? Ah, they forget/
They cannot write their parts; the bell has rung," How true.

Mary Lee said... I reading this right? A verse novel from the 1940's? WOW!

Too much wall and not enough auditorium in my classroom these days!! (re: listening to each other)