It is cold outside. In fact, the forecast for this week is for highs and lows all below freezing. While it was around 25 degrees this afternoon, I took my bike out for a short ride because, like nearly every one else, I am out of shape and restless for exercise. I rode down to the newly opened bridge, as I often did on my summer rides before the bridge washed out in 2011.
I thought I would miss the smell of wood permeated with drips of engine oil, like an old garage, but even in this cold I could tell it smelled like new lumber, something that has pleasant associations for one who has lived through more additions to our house than I can number. (Did you know Yankee Candle has a scent for men called “2 x 4”? And yes, it smells like newly cut wood!)
When I am not outside testing myself against windchill, I have a place in a rocking chair by the woodstove to which I can retreat for some quiet reading time. I don’t have much of it, but what I am reading keeps tugging me over. My open books are Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey, Plato’s Gorgias, The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, How Does a Poem Mean by John Ciardi, Gospel-Powered Humility by William Farley, Humility by Andrew Murray. (At my bedside are Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge and The Great and Terrible Quest by Margaret Lovett, as well as Hamlet, but those are for unwinding before I sleep.)
I am fascinated by the concept of culture’s values and the place of the Arts in communicating them. Even though I taught as a music teacher, I was never convinced the fine arts were essential to our individual and communal well-being. And yet, even before I began to be persuaded, I had introduced poetry reading to the dinner table in order to rescue our conversation from mind-numbing blather. And lo! I discovered my kids and husband can engage their fine minds to something more exciting than sophomoric humor, making connections to things they have learned elsewhere and thereby enriching me, as well.
I was out the night they saw Dead Poets Society (which I saw once upon a time) but since then my husband and the teens have brought it up often. The introductory essay in How Does a Poem Mean?, which I have been reading aloud recently, has sparked good conversation about poetry. They tell me what they learned in Dead Poets confirms what they are hearing in the essay. The essay tells us we cannot give poems the scientific treatment. “Oh! That’s like when the teacher has them rip out the pages of the book!” they said. This satisfies some deep part of my soul, which isn’t content to make meals, clean bathrooms, and oversee lessons. I cherish these discussions! They often turn to address our destructive habits, such as time-wasting on internet. The things I would like to change in my home but seem to have no power to address head-on, the kids bring up naturally after they encounter a poet.
It is no coincidence that a couple of my books are saying the same thing: that poesy (imaginative writing) speaks truth as truly as instructive writing, but that it can have greater power to move us. Yes! For quite a while I have been focusing on non-fiction reading or Bible study to the point of being overstuffed and soul-sick. They teach me what I should do, but lack the power to move me to do it. Yet literature sets a permanent model in my heart for me to follow. I want to be like Huon in The Great and Terrible Quest, utterly determined to do right by the boy he is helping. Hamlet reminds me not to let an opportunity pass to confront wickedness when my duty is clear. (But when dither, I will know what is happening because I have seen it in Hamlet.)
So. No dithering; my duty is clear. It is time to do the hard work of exercise. I will continue to read poetry as well as the Bible to lead my children into wisdom. I will dip into poesy and books about it every opportunity I get. After all, they are a bridge over the flood of everyday affairs and a way to wisdom.