Monday, May 30, 2016


It's spring in the north woods!

Jack in the pulpit Preaches to-day,
Under the green trees
Just over the way.
Squirrel and song-sparrow,
High on their perch,
Hear the sweet lily-bells
Ringing to church.
Come, hear what his reverence
Rises to say,
In his low painted pulpit
This calm Sabbath-day.
Fair is the canopy
Over him seen,
Penciled by Nature’s hand,
Black, brown, and green.
Green is his surplice,
Green are his bands;
In his queer little pulpit
The little priest stands.

In black and gold velvet,
So gorgeous to see,
Comes with his bass voice
The chorister bee.
Green fingers playing
Unseen on wind-lyres,
Low singing bird voices,–
These are his choirs.
The violets are deacons–
I know by the sign
That the cups which they carry
Are purple with wine.
And the columbines bravely
As sentinels stand
On the look-out with all their
Red trumpets in hand.

Meek-faced anemones,
Drooping and sad;
Great yellow violets,
Smiling out glad;
Buttercups’ faces,
Beaming and bright;
Clovers, with bonnets,–
Some red and some white;
Daisies, their white fingers
Half-clasped in prayer;
Dandelions, proud of
The gold of their hair;
Guileless and frail,
Meek little faces
Upturned and pale;
Wild-wood geraniums,
All in their best,
Languidly leaning
In purple gauze dressed:–
All are assembled
This sweet Sabbath-day
To hear what the priest
In his pulpit will say.

Look! white Indian pipes
On the green mosses lie!
Who has been smoking
Profanely so nigh?
Rebuked by the preacher
The mischief is stopped,
But the sinners, in haste,
Have their little pipes dropped.
Let the wind, with the fragrance
Of fern and black birch,
Blow the smell of the smoking
Clean out of the church!
So much for the preacher:
The sermon comes next,–
Shall we tell how he preached it,
And where was his text?
Alas! like too many
Grown-up folks who play
At worship in churches
Man-builded to-day,–
We heard not the preacher
Expound or discuss;

But we looked at the people,
And they looked at us.
We saw all their dresses,
Their colors and shapes;
The trim of their bonnets,
The cut of their capes.
We heard the wind-organ,
The bee, and the bird,
But of Jack in the pulpit
We heard not a word! 

— Clara Smith

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Rose . . . Would Smell as Sweet

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
— Shakespeare  

It’s 7 a.m., May 28. David is out fishing this morning with our two dogs, and I’m inside by the woodstove where it is toasty warm. Late May in Maine, still cool in the mornings. Earlier this week I chose An Arrow to the Heart, by Ken McLeod, for my “daily reading” book; each morning I read a few pages from a “special” book . . . it’s a routine, a practice, something that keeps me grounded and steady in the face of strong winds and choppy seas.

An Arrow to the Heart is a commentary on the Heart Sutra, one of the most popular Buddhist texts. It is home to these puzzling lines:

Form is emptiness.
Emptiness is form.
Emptiness is not other than form.
Form is not other than emptiness.

I’m looking forward to McLeod’s commentary to help me understand these words. But the first page in the book made me laugh . . . out loud. It simply says . . .

The Title: Heart Sutra
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. — Shakespeare

One summer when I was young, I think in junior high, I decided to read Shakespeare . . . all of his works. I didn’t quite reach my goal, but it was after all a bit lofty. I did get through a few plays and some sonnets. And that summer I encountered this line:

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

I remember it so clearly. A flash went off in my head, and my adolescent mind thought: all those swear words I recently learned are really meaningless! There’s nothing really wrong with the word “shit.” A rose could be called a shit and would still smell as sweet. Words don’t mean anything if you can substitute a different one and nothing changes. A rose could be called a chair; a chair could be called a boat. It’s all the same. Our mind, our collective mind, has given meaning to these words, but any combination of letters is really meaningless without the social overlay. That's when it happened: those black-and-white lines of Catholic doctrine started to blur.

So, some fifty years later, I open a book on the Heart Sutra and see those words: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. What could I do but laugh? Things do have a way of going around and around.