It’s been a hard year. First, our dear corgi, Gwen, died after a difficult illness.
Most tragically, my oldest beloved brother, Bob, died of cancer two months later.
My son broke his tibia in two places. Not a tragedy, but a challenge for a young man who loves to walk.
In sum: a difficult time. I’m an optimist by nature, but this year has challenged me mightily.
Then in December, my daughter asked if we had any books that needed to be bound properly as she was to attend a workshop on bookbinding and conservation. Did we ever! Coming from a family nick-named “the Morrison writing factory” by my mom Joan, we had books galore–many tattered, with spines falling off and pages torn and ripped. I pulled a number out, assuring her, “There are more, if you like!”
I flipped through the pages of one book, Approaches to Poetry (1935), and– lo and behold–a loose notebook page fell out. It had writing on it. A poem. Of Joan’s? Yes! She must have been about 16 or 17 when she wrote this.
Found December 2, 2021 in Approaches to Poetry
I will make you brooches and toys for your delight
Of bird song at morning and starfire at at night
I will make a palace fit for you and me
Of green days in forests and blue days at sea.
I will make my kitchen and you shall keep your room
Where white flows the river and bright blows the broom
And you shall work your linen and keep your body white
In rainfall at morning and dewfall at nite.
And this shall be for music when no one else is ware
The fine song for singing, the rare song to hear
That only I remember, that only you admire
Of the broad road that stretches and roadside fire.
Later, as I told my husband Jim about all this, I lifted up yet another book–World Literature (edited by E. A. Cross, also 1935)–of my mother’s I had held numerous times. I opened it to gaze within, seeing her inscription: “Joan Wehlen October 26, 1938 U-High.” In the Table of Contents, she had transcribed this famous quote from Anatole France: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” Coming from a family with socialist leanings in the wake of the Depression, this sentiment must have resonated. She also had transcribed the word “Hrunting”–the name of the sword loaned to Beowulf by Unferth.
I flipped through and this fell out from among the pages of Cicero:
How could this be? I had heard my parents joke about this poem many times. “Cavalier Poet to his Lady” was inspired by the metaphysical poets and Carpe Diem poems from the early 17th century. In fact, I had transcribed a slightly different version years ago. This one seems to have been edited with a date included–maybe 11-24-78 (?)–though my earlier transcription dates it as December 13, 1941. She clearly returned to this poem, perhaps in hopes of publishing it late in life.
Since it was originally written 6 days after Pearl Harbor, Carpe Diem must have been on everyone’s minds. Here is this newly discovered version, in all its humorous glory.
Cavalier Poet to his Lady
And why so great a fuss about a thing
So quickly done and soon forgotten?
Indeed, you set upon yourself a price
That others will not thereon set.
You in your grave when you are lying sweetly rotten
May gloat o’er your preserved virginity
But none will want it yet.
Yea, sweetheart, if thou canst not love
Yet in humility do what you can
To light the path from birth to grave
And cheer the heart of man.
My mom has certainly cheered my heart! And I hope this story has cheered yours. I feel that Joan knew I needed her consoling words at this, her 99th birthday and the day before the darkest day of the year. May it only get brighter from now on.