Posts Tagged ‘robert service’

I dusted off the vintage books this afternoon, not to read but to, literally, dust. Spring cleaning. I can’t just dust books. I have to smell them, hold them, and gently open the covers to reveal what might be hidden inside: the claim of former ownership, the lack of a publication date or a copyright. My heart beats a little faster and I sometimes read a paragraph or two. Cleaning vintage book shelves takes more time than simply running a duster over them.

Many of them I purchased at yard or library books sales, careful to check the copyright and condition of the covers and pages. There is a significant portion of the books on that particular shelf I was dusting that are inscribed with the names or initials of my forebears. They are not only family in the sense that all good books are family, but in the sense that someone in my direct lineage once read and treasured them and oftimes someone else read and treasured them enough to save them and pass them on to me.

Most of them were handed down through the Cusick side of my family tree from my Great-grandmother Susan (Miller) Cusick and her husband, my Great-grandfather, Oscar H. Cusick. Some are treasures from one or another of the Cusick siblings: Uncles Art and Ed and my paternal Grandmother Sylvia (Cusick) Wilcox. My father’s sister’s name is in several of the books: Mary Wilcox. A few have my grandfather’s initials in them: Fred Orson Wilcox, husband of Sylvia. The books passed down by my mother are children’s books she treasured.

The collection of mini leather-bound classics belonged to Sylvia (I never knew her, therefor she is “Sylvia” to me, not “Grandma”). The yellowed pieces of paper slipped in above the volumes are the type-written index to all the books therein. I have seen other collections similar to this at antique stores but Sylvia’s is the most complete I have so far located. Shakespeare, Browning, Poe, Lincoln, Anderson, Kipling, Carroll, Dante, Dickens, Hugo, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Emerson, Dumas, and Longfellow – just a few of the featured authors in this treasure trove of literature and poetry.

Surely Sylvia was a dreamy child and prone to spending hours with her nose in a book!

I counted 21 books in the larger size. This is a smattering of the more colorful bindings. I have read Robert Service forward and back over the years. Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses” is charming and dreamy. the Courtship of Miles Standish (center) is a bit worse for wear on the inside – the pages are separating from the binding.

One book had a note from my dad: “This was always one of my favorites”. Neihardt’s “Song of Hugh Glass” which many a reader will recognize as the text from which the script for the movie, “The Revenant” was taken. it’s pretty heady reading in the form of an epic poem.

I need to write here who owned which books as a record of genealogy and ancestry:

Mrs. OH Cusick (Susan Miller): Ballads of a Cheechako (Service), The Spell of the Yukon (Service), and Sartor Resartus (Carlyle), Those owned by Oscar Cusick: Courtship of Miles Standish (Longfellow), Snow-Bound (Whittier), and In Memoriam (Tennyson).

Uncle Art Cusick: Tales of a Wayside Inn (Longfellow).

Uncle Ed Cusick: Whittier’s Poems (Whittier).

Sylvia (Mrs. FO Wilcox): Romeo & Juliette (Shakespeare), She must have loved that particular play!

FO Wilcox (Gramps): The Tragedy of King Lear (Shakespeare), Emerson’s Essays (Emerson), The Vicar of Wakefield (Goldsmith), and The Song of Hugh Glass (Neihardt).

Aunt Mary Wilcox: A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream (Shakespeare).

Mary Lou (Melrose) Wilcox (Mom): Campfire Girls (Jane Stewart), Mother Goose, Pilgrim’s Party (Lowitz), and A Child’s Garden of Verses (Stevenson).

I have a lot of reading to do to catch up with the ancestors (I have, in truth, read most of the books and more than once). The love of books and the love of reading runs deep in my blood. I imagine rocking chairs, a fire in the woodstove, and flickering electric lights as the books were read in the evening. I imagine a young teenager curled up with her favorite Shakespeare tale, sitting in a front window where the sun warms her and lights the pages.

These are my priceless possessions, my books. I am never so rich as what I have books to read, and better so: my ancestors read the same works.

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It isn’t often that I am surprised by someone else’s lack of knowledge about poetry; it is a taste that some folks never develop. I do, however, assume that everyone knows the names of the great poets, like Robert W. Service.

Who is that, you say? You’d be joining the ranks of my associates at work, and several of my Facebook friends.

But how can you *not* know who he was? Don’t they read “The Cremation of Sam McGee” in school these days? Oh, wait. I didn’t read it in school, either: my father quoted it to me, and I begged to see the book it was written in. A life-long love affair with “The Bard of the Yukon” was born (and while “Sam McGee” is his most quotable poem, “The Spell of the Yukon” is his most beautiful ode to that wild, untamed, brutish land where most of his poems are set).

Poetry gets a bad rap, face it. I had a college professor who hated Robert Frost; I love Robert Frost (he was not adored by his contemporaries). I’m not a fan of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, but snippets from her poems are found in greeting cards everywhere. There are some who find John Donne tedious, but if I can bury my nose in his Holy Sonnets:

“Batter my heart, three-personed God; for You

as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;” (Holy Sonnet 14).

Thomas Carew wrote a moving poem upon the death of Dr. John Donne:

Here lies a king, that ruled as he thought fit

the universal monarchy of wit;

Here lie two flamens, and both those the best:

Apollo’s first, at that the true God’s priest.” (flamens: a crown of bays or laurel)

Some poems are so quotable that you might think everyone would know them (I’m coming back to Robert W. Service here):

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales/that would make you blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

but the queerest they ever did see

was that night on Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee”

Every kid can quote “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe (at least I assume they can!) but he wrote poetry that was not so macabre as well.

I don’t know when I fell in love with poetry, but I do know when I discovered Langston Hughes. 1973. I bought a poster with a poem of his on it. In later years, I read his biography and all of his poems from “Hold Fast to Dreams” to “Harlem”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore –

and then run?

How about this freestyle from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, titled “Dog”:

The dog trots freely in the street

and sees reality and the things he sees 

are bigger than himself

and the things he sees

are his reality

Poetry covers every aspect of human life. Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Robert Browning, Thomas Gray: Ode (On the Death of a Favorite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes), Henry David Thoroeau, Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling, William Butler Yeats.

What of William Blake?

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

These are but snippets of favorite poems, many forgotten in the dusty attic of my memory. And I have so many more books of poetry to read.

But let me return to Robert Service one more time. My friends who read Sam McGee were highly entertained and realized there was something more to be said about the world of poetry.

I want to leave them with this classic, written by The Great ANONYMOUS (and, despite that name, this poem is a classic in all regards): The Whore on the Snow Crust:

Bastards are not at all time got

In feather beds, we know;

The strumpet’s oath convinces both

Ofttimes it is not so…

If I fell in love with poetry because of Rudyard Kipling or William Blake, and then proceeded to devour my way through Shelley, Longfellow, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and e.e. cummings, then I am, perhaps, guilty of a sort of elitism way of thinking. Of course you know who this was!!

Let me leave you with this visual from Carl Sandburg:

The Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.



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