Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Last Full Measure of Devotion

No doubt if you're an American reader, you'll recognize those words as coming from Abraham Lincoln's address at the dedication ceremony for the new cemetery following the battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Ever since I read Joseph Persico's My Enemy, My Brother, I've been moved by stories about that battle, the bloodiest in the war*. Persico's description of Pickett's charge is especially poignant. The book I finished over the weekend, Lisa Klein's Two Girls of Gettysburg, brought home for me, though, that it wasn't just the soldiers who were heroes during that battle.

The book follows the story of two cousins, Lizzie Allbauer of Gettysburg and Rosanna Wilcox of Richmond (who lived for a short time in Gettysburg). Lizzie's father and brother fight for the North; Rosanna marries a young Confederate cavalryman and follows him to camp, where she becomes involved in helping nurse the wounded and dying. Through her eyes we see the cost in suffering and death that the war brought, not only in battle, but through disease, as well. Indirectly, we also see Lizzie's brother Luke change from a teenaged boy reluctant to do his chores into a mature soldier carrying out the orders of his commander.

Those two roles are what we expect to hear in a story about the war. What I appreciated about this book, though, is that it also tells the story of other roles, played by Lizzie and her friend/beau Martin Wiegel. Both Lizzie and Martin spend the war in Gettysburg. It's not that this is the first time I've read a book about the suffering on the home front during the war; Nancy Dane's Civil War series does a great job showing those struggles. What I really appreciated about Klein's book is the way Lizzie and Martin come off as heroes in their own way, even though they aren't living what we would normally consider the "heroic" roles - nurse and soldier.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Today's Bit of Poetry

Today I'm in the mood for some A.A. Milne, from Now We Are Six:

Solitude

I have a house where I go
When there's too many people,
I have a house where I go
Where no one can be;
I have a house where I go,
Where nobody ever says, "No";
Where no one says anything--so
There is no one but me.

(I had to include one of Ernest H. Shepard's original drawings of Winnie-the-Pooh!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Little Something for Valentine's Day

Someone on Twitter had posted a question asking for people's favorite love poems, and that sent me back in time. It's been a LONG time since I've read any poetry. But when I was an English major in college, I read quite a bit of it and even took a course called Critical Approaches to Poetry. During that time, I developed an appreciation for Theodore Roethke. So in honor of Valentine's Day, here is one of his love poems:

The Dream

I met her as a blossom on a stem
Before she ever breathed, and in that dream
The mind remembers from a deeper sleep:
Eye learned from eye, cold lip from sensual lip.
My dream divided on a point of fire;
Light hardened on the water where we were;
A bird sang low; the moonlight sifted in;
The water rippled, and she rippled on.

She came toward me in the flowing air,
A shape of change, encircled by its fire.
I watched her there, between me and the moon;
The bushes and the stones danced on and on;
I touched her shadow when the light delayed;
I turned my face away, and yet she stayed.
A bird sang from the center of a tree;
She loved the wind because the wind loved me.

Love is not love until love's vulnerable.
She slowed to sigh, in that long interval.
A small bird flew in circles where we stood;
The deer came down, out of the dappled wood.
All who remember, doubt. Who calls that strange?
I tossed a stone, and listened to its plunge.
She knew the grammar of least motion, she
Lent me one virtue, and I live thereby.

She held her body steady in the wind;
Our shadows met, and slowly swung around;
She turned the field into a glittering sea;
I played in flame and water like a boy
And I swayed out beyond the white seafoam; 
Like a wet log, I sang within a flame.
In that last while, eternity's confine,
I came to love, I came into my own.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Three Ways of Reading

When I'm reading a novel, what I'm really doing is reading three different ways. What I ultimately think about the book comes from some ratio of those three readings. The latest book I read, The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood, is a good example of how complicated that ratio can be.

The first way I read something, of course, is for the story. Is it entertaining? Do I care about the characters? Am I caught up in what happens? The best stories are so engrossing that, for a little while at least, my real life becomes secondary. I read a good portion of The Shakespeare Stealer while cooking supper the other night. The story has a good premise: an orphaned boy who's never known any life other than that of an abused apprentice is sent to steal Shakespeare's Hamlet so his new master can put on the play. As he is trying to get his hands on the script, he makes friends and finds the family he's never had. While the characters in this book are not among my all-time favorites, they were likeable enough, and the action of the story moved along quickly. (I have to admit, maybe there were some other reasons I devoured this book. First, it is a middle-grade novel, so it was EASY reading, and second, I was just coming off a six-week stint of reading an academic, non-fiction book, so quite frankly, I was starved for fiction!)

However, The Shakespeare Stealer didn't fare quite as well in my second way of reading.