Thursday, May 28, 2020

Sketchbooks, petticoats, and alpenstocks

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.
~William James

Judith Wright
born May 31, 1915

An Australian poet for Poetry Friday. It's past Mother's Day, but Father's Day is coming up and some people have birthdays, and the Year owes us anyway. Judith Wright:

Request to a Year
by Judith Wright

If the year is meditating a suitable gift,
I should like it to be the attitude
of my great-great-grandmother,
legendary devotee of the arts,

who, having eight children
and little opportunity for painting pictures,
sat one day on a high rock
beside a river in Switzerland

and from a difficult distance viewed
her second son, balanced on a small ice-floe,
drift down the current towards a waterfall
that struck rock-bottom eighty feet below,

while her second daughter, impeded,
no doubt, by the petticoats of the day,
stretched out a last-hope alpenstock
(which luckily later caught him on his way).

Nothing, it was evident, could be done;
And with the artist's isolating eye
My great-great-grandmother hastily sketched the scene.
The sketch survives to prove the story by.

Year, if you have no Mother's day present planned,
reach back and bring me the firmness of her hand.


A Year of Reading has the Poetry Friday round-up. Thanks, Mary Lee!


Bridget Magee said...

Wow! Wright's poem sketches such a vivid picture of that harrowing scene with words, but I'd love to see her great-great-grandmother's actual sketch. I love the William James' quote as well - intellectually I know it to be true, but hard to put in practice. Thanks for the treasure trove post, Tabatha. :)

Linda Mitchell said...

Oh, dear...the poet probably didn't think I would chortle at her words the way I did. My first reaction was, "this is funny." But, then I read it again and I the sharpness got me. The sacrifice for art...the catching of a moment as an artist first. That is sharp and can be dangerous. Well done, Great Grandmama...well done. I wonder what I'd do in her same moment? If we'd all laugh at the end of the day with an "alls well that ends well," laugh or if I feel a pang of guilt...and what to do with the sketch?

Mary Lee said...

Wow. If that's not the actual truth, then what an imagination to invent that truth, that ancestor, that moment in time caught in a sketch!

(And yes, this Year owes us...big time...)

Linda B said...

I love reading this, and then other comments and responses to it, Tabatha. I feel it's very tongue-in-cheek, that "knowing" great-great-grandmother, having lived a long life, has the courage to do only what she can do, capture the moment. What an intriguing poem! I wonder how we might all approach a poem for our year?

tanita✿davis said...

Year, I can't legitimately HAVE a mother's day gift, but I'm TOTALLY standing in line for that firmness nonetheless...

This poem reads both as a tall tale, and as a wistful reaching towards what made our foremothers great. Lovely.

Karen Eastlund said...

It is an intriguing poem, thanks for sharing. It reminds me of a story of my grandmother Grace, who saw one of her kids had climbed to the top of the windmill on their farm. She reportedly yelled, "You come down now" and then went into the house. What else could she do, right? I imagine some prayers filled the next timeframe until the child was down. In both cases, women kept their distance and the child survived. Makes me wonder about many things...

Sally Murphy said...

Oh wow - I love Judith Wright but had forgotten this poem. Thanks for sharing it. Wouldn't we all like some of that firmness of hand!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

That ending!

Michelle Kogan said...

What a tale she wove with words, I too would love to see that sketch. And thank goodness for choosing "one thought over another," thanks Tabatha!

Janice Scully said...

What a riveting tale and I would love to see that sketch. William James's quote rings true for me, whose thoughts too often compete for my attention.