I heard the bells

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Christmas Day, 1863, Washington, D.C.

 

Outside his window on Christmas Day, 1863, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow heard the Christmas bells and the carolers singing “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men”.

That cold December day he was in Washington, D.C. called to the bedside of his son who, less than a month earlier, had been wounded in the shoulder at the battle of Mine Run Campaign, the follow up to the Battle of Gettysburg, and an unsuccessful attempt by Union forces to defeat the Army of the Potomac near Chancellorsville.

 

The north wind blew fierce that day in fitful gushes that banged the shutters on the windows that were not secured. The carolers, attempting to dispel the gloom, pulled tight their winter coats and scarves, their voices accompanied by sleigh-bells from horses making their way to their appointed destinations, and in the air one smelled a mixture of sweet egg-nog and the stench of death.

Worried, disconsolate, and inspired, he wrote these words:

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

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For goodness sake!

For goodness sake!

Do not wake me yet

Let me sit and dream

For it seems

The world has gone quite mad

And the fighting never ceases

And for that I am sad, but for this I am glad

Oh Lord, let me rest

Oh Lord, let me dream of a world at peace

Full of goodness!

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Wassail

Cheers!

If I said, “Wassup!” you’d know what I meant, but what about “Wassail!”

Wassail has its roots in ancient Norse, it rhymes with lass and hail and means “be hale” or “be of good health”.

The word entered the English lexicon in the 5th century with the Saxons, Hengist and Horsa, who came to help the British Celts fight the Picts. Horsa died fighting and Hengist stayed. The story goes that Hengist’s daughter Rowen offered British King Vortigern a golden cup filled with wine, saying,

“Lord King, Wassail!”

The word was new to Vortigern, the wine was pleasing, and so too was Rowen. They marry and the next thing you know, Hengist is the very first king of England, or at least of Kent, where the Saxons and their cousins the Angles settled down and became English.

By the time the Normans arrived centuries later, Englishmen were wassailing each other with a cup of wine. The habit was hard to break. Time changes words and their meaning and wassail was remembered as the spicy hot wine and not the salutation.

Sometimes a glass of wassail will start you thinking. What do other countries use for toasts?

In France they say, Bonne sante. The French being the French and very idiosyncratic don’t pronounce the first e and accent the second “e” to make the long eeee sound.

In Spain and the Spanish speaking countries of the western hemisphere, they say “Brindar.” Literally, meaning “offer” but that doesn’t express the thought, which is a hope that the recipient of the toast may receive all that is good and necessary. Brevity, the mark of a good toast and good sense.

“Expresar un bien deseado a alguien o algo a la vez que se levanta la copa con vino o licor antes de beber.”

In Russian, they say “Prosit!” but they say it Cyrillic, просит, which is hard to say, and means nothing more than, I beg or pray.

In German, they also say, “Prosit” or “Ein Prosit” which translates as “Cheers!”

But they made it into a song, which everyone sings at Oktoberfest and when wishing one a schönes Neues Jahr:

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemütlichkeit
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemütlichkeit.

Cheers, my friends, it all means the same, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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At home in Bruges

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If you want to see how the other half lives, don’t sit at home and think about it. Get out and run. You will find, however, that homes everywhere are like puppies and snowflakes, similar in so many ways, and always unique.

The grand canal between Bruges and Ghent is lined by high banks, tall trees, lovely homes and sweet gardens.

cottage in Bruges, Belgium

Whose woods are these

stressless recliners, fairy tales can come true

I dare not leave these woods quite yet, something lurks up above, something lingers behind a tree, waiting just for me

… in these woods, lovely, dark, and deep.

I cannot sleep for from the distance in the woods comes a sound, “Who?” it calls mocking me. I dare not answer, my knees are knocking, teeth chattering. Am I scared?

You bet.

Then, I hear a branch crack, needles crunch, and I have got a hunch from the woods there comes for me a dark and hairy beast. Should I run, should I grab a great big stick, or, should I fall and make a tiny little ball? Then, I manage in a tiny voice to call out, father-mother are you there?

Silence, says my father, go to sleep.

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Great starts

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  –  Mark Twain

frog in pond

It certainly had a wide celebrity…but I was aware that it was only the frog that was celebrated. It wasn’t I. – Mark Twain’s Autobiography

frog-submerged in water

It seems like such a waste, what do the French do with the rest of the frog, and what does the frog do with the rest of the day?

My candle burns at both ends

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
Edna St. Vincent MIllay

edna st. vincent millay eyes

Friday already, and I haven’t done half of what I need to do. That is life in the digital age.

Time out!

Edna St. Vincent Millay died at the age of 58, the result of a heart attack after a coronary occlusion. She was dressed in a nightgown and slippers when her body was found by James Pinnie, a caretaker, (who cares?) who had arrived to light a fire for the evening. “Miss Millay,” as the New York Times called her, had lived alone in her home in the Berkshire hills of New York, close to those same hills that James Taylor sang of (he lives there), since her husband died ten months earlier.

The Times continues to say: “Miss Millay was born in Rockland, Me., on Feb. 22, 1892, in an old house ‘between the mountains and the sea’ where baskets of apples and drying herbs on the porch mingled their scents with those of the neighboring pine woods.”

She had friends, she had foes, she acted, she wrote, she lived in The Village, she escaped to Florida, the Riviera, Spain, and finally, she escaped to Maine.

She was, the Times continued, “a frivolous young woman, with a brand-new pair of dancing slippers and a mouth like a valentine,” young, red-haired and unquestionably pretty.

What we remember is what we choose, ’tis the pity, she was much more.

My choice…

Figs from Thistles: First Fig
By Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

For this and other poems, Millay won the the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923.

Friday already, and I haven’t done half of what I need to do.

millay-poster

Tolkien Variations

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
Hands that touch warm the heart
Such is the nature of love.

Tolkien Variations

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The wind and the waves

He who has never gone to a lonely stretch of ocean, to stand before the waves and hear the wind whisper, to feel the salty breeze against one’s cheeks, to know the simple things – that life and living need not be so hard – has never lived.

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There is an ancient story, one of King Canute, tall and strong, the handsomest of men, King of England, Norway, and Denmark, son of Sweyn Forkbeard, father to Harthacnut, step-father to Edward the Confessor.

Told his subjects believed him to be almighty, King Canute commanded that a chair should be set on the shore and when the tide began to rise, he spoke to the rising sea saying,

“You are part of my dominion, the ground that I am seated upon is mine, nor has anyone disobeyed my orders with impunity. Therefore, I order you not to rise onto my land, nor to wet the clothes or body of your Lord”.

But the sea carried on as if it heard nothing, rising without any reverence to his person, and soaked his feet and legs.

Canute, moving away said:

“All the the world should know that the power of kings is vain and trivial, that none is worthy the name of king but He who commands the heavens, earth and sea by His eternal laws”.

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