A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bad Poetry: Come Back Clean

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) was perhaps the most popular, not to mention prolific, poetess of her time. Raised in rural Wisconsin on a diet of sentimental and homespun verse, she declared the University of Wisconsin after one semester "a waste of time" and mathematics a "holy horror." She often said that kindness was her religion. She was an ardent prohibitionist and a proponent of theosophy and of the New Thought Movement.

New Thought holds that God is creative intelligence or universal mind; there are no sins but rather "mistakes;" positive thinking and affirmations can achieve healing and success. In the late nineteenth century, New Thought was personified by Phineas Parkhurst Quimby; in the late twentieth century, by Deepak Chopra.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox's most famous poem begins "Laugh and the world laughs with you; Weep and you weep alone...." Although criticized for excessive femininity and ranked as a very minor poet, she raked in an impressive amount of money doing something by which few men, even today, can earn a living. She urged women, "Do not thrust upon a man's mind continually the idea that you are a vastly higher order of being than he is. He will reach your standard much sooner if you come half-way and meet him on the plane of common sense and human understanding." Very happily married for over thirty years, she was no doubt speaking from experience.

During the Great War, Wilcox read her poems to soldiers. In this poem, she urges men to control their "man's desire" while away and come back to their loved ones with a clean "sword."

Come Back Clean

This is the song for a soldier
To sing as he rides from home
To the fields afar where the battles are
Or over the ocean's foam:
"Whatever the dangers waiting
In the lands I have not seen,
If I do not fall--if I come back at all,
Then I will come back clean.

"I may lie in the mud of the trenches,
I may reek with blood and mire,
But I will control, by the God in my soul,
The might of my man's desire.
I will fight my foe in the open,
But my sword shall be sharp and keen
For the foe within who would lure me to sin,
And I will come back clean."

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