Nov 23, 2013

Janet Loxley Lewis, "Austerity"



Austerity
by Janet Loxley Lewis

 From "Cold Hills" 
  
I have lived so long
On the cold hills alone ...
I loved the rock
And the lean pine trees,
Hated the life in the turfy meadow, 
Hated the heavy, sensuous bees.
I have lived so long
Under the high monotony of starry skies,
I am so cased about
With the clean wind and the cold nights, 
People will not let me in
To their warm gardens
Full of bees. 



Thanks to The Academy of American Poets' poem-a-day at their website, poets.org, for introducing me to this spare, hard gem by
a poet I didn't know
at all. 


I think Janet Loxley Lewis' "Austerity" illustrates the old, valid concept that unpleasant messages can still be gifts because of the beauty and impact in their presentation. Who knew that "turfy meadow" could sound almost like profanity? Or the puffy, losing church-league softball team? Who thinks
of bees as "heavy," 
yet they surely can resemble lumbering blimps, or
pornographic invaders, 
once a good witness points out that they are
"sensuous." And the romantic old "starry skies"
are now demoted to "high monotony." Whether or
not I see the night sky that way, I have to admit
that it's an understandable, plausible perspective. 

A professor at Stanford and Berkeley, Janet Loxley Lewis (1899-1998) was also the wife of famed literary scholar Yvor Winters.
I wonder if that's why she's not better known in her own right.


Austerity
by Janet Loxley Lewis

 From "Cold Hills" 
  
I have lived so long
On the cold hills alone ...
I loved the rock
And the lean pine trees,
Hated the life in the turfy meadow, 
Hated the heavy, sensuous bees.
I have lived so long
Under the high monotony of starry skies,
I am so cased about
With the clean wind and the cold nights, 
People will not let me in
To their warm gardens
Full of bees. 

  

Today's poem is in the public domain. 

7 comments:

RuneE said...

First a compliment on the photos and a question: Was it intentional to include that single swan with all the ducks? It made me think of H.C. Andersen, and I somehow connected it with the poem.

I didn't know that bees were pornographic, but I know there are those who still regard "the birds and the bees" in that light :-)

Personally I have lived almost all my life on the coast - except for a short period when I lived deep in the mountain forest. I think I get that part of the feeling, at least. I would perish without the sea.

Jean Spitzer said...

Beautiful photos. The swan with ducks does look like it belongs to the fairy tale.

I like the poem. Cold, remote.

altadenahiker said...

"People will not let me in
To their warm gardens
Full of bees."

I don't know, the poem confuses me. She is solitary and complete? And a gathering of people just so much buzzing and annoying background noise?

Stickup Artist said...

I can relate. Time spent alone in the solitude of clean, vast, powerful spaces does make the day-to-day concerns and activities of society seem strange and remote. I love the poem and of course, the photos.

(I did sharpen that last set of images. Usually, I think trees look better without any sharpening, but this time I made an exception and was happy with the result).

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Kelly said...

Beautiful poem. I can feel the cold and isolation. It affected me the same way...surprise at the flipped imagery ("high monotony of starry skies"). Made me go back and take a several more looks.

Love the sight of the Canada Geese tucked up and resting on the ice.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Banjo52 said...

Jean and Rune, that photo is a couple of years old, so I don't remember how much I intended to include the swan. I do think the swan adds interest.

And Rune, oh my, yes, bees are filthy, rotten, hen-pecked Sodomites, porn stars from way back. You're a man of the world, so I thought you knew . . .

AH and Stickup, I wonder if she is to some extent trying to convince herself that she's "solitary and complete." But I tend to believe her, which for me adds impact to the poem. "A gathering of people just so much buzzing and annoying background noise"--I've certainly been to several too many gatherings that fit that description. She sounds like a much more genuine, hardcore recluse than I ever have been, but I have a streak of it, which again adds interest for me.

Stickup, thanks for the compliment and the info about your photos. Digitalization offers so many options . . . I really like the way you used it last time (and maybe other times I didn't recognize it).

Kelly and STickup, great. I felt that cold and isolation too. When I dislike or am indifferent about a poem, it's often because I don't trust the poet's honesty or urgency or investment in it. Lewis sounds thoroughly authentic to me, which of course just adds to the "cold and isolation"--maybe a little scarily so.

Tucked up Canada Geese aren't a typical sight for me--when it's cold enough, I usually hit the treadmill or the mall (an uncomfortable confession), so the geese were a kick for me. And maybe I've said before that wildlife impresses me more and more with its ways to survive. These birds that stay all winter . . . such a basic thing, but holy cow.





Banjo52 said...

P.S. The fact that people will not let her in "to their warm gardens" is another wonderful complication, I think. We can't be entirely sure about who's rejected whom the most, or first, at least in the speaker's mind.

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