Sunday, September 09, 2007

Poetry: Arthur Lloyd Mitchell

A.L. "Big Al" Mitchell

Some of you reader-folk are fully aware, I'd imagine, of our A.L. Mitchell writing contest we're sponsoring here at HS. That said, unless you were a member of the Emory & Henry College/Abingdon, Virginia-area community you probably didn't have the pleasure of knowing its namesake. I was close to Mr. Mitchell, looked up to him like grandfather, and still, even over the eleven years I knew him, there was still so much I didn't know about him. For instance, I knew he had an MA from Columbia University in literature, and I knew he had a deep and abiding love of poetry, but I never read any of his own work - in fact, I'm ashamed to say, I don't think I really ever knew he wrote poetry. Well, since Mr. Mitchell passed away, I have come into a copy of a small folio of poetry written and published by Mr. Mitchell, and I thought I would share a couple of my favorite pieces. They are a bit more traditional than I usually go into (I'm an e.e. cummings sorta' guy myself), but they are touching and, sometimes, quite beautiful - especially the pieces on nature. Consider:

Birth and Death of Day
Glorious rays of daybreak finger through the eastern sky
When the sun has kissed the morn.
Gold, scarlet, and flamingo
Are tints which glow when day is born.

Pastel shades of evening float across the western sky
When the sun has slipped away.
Pink, light blue, and lavender
Are the hues that attire the dying day.
Our Days Are What We Make Them (excerpt)
Some days I awake to a gray, misty morn
And the world seems ragged and bare.
The people I meet as I walk down the street
Seem loaded with burdens and care.
Nature is dull: the birds fail to sing;
Flowers have no fragrance or hue;
Things go undone till setting of the sun.
These days end in gray dampness of dew.

Other days I awake to a bright, rosy east
And the world seems happy and gay.
The people I meet as I walk down the street
Warmly smile as they go on their way.
All nature is stirring: the bird loudly carol;
The flowers are brilliant and sweet;
The tasks of the day seem to drift right away.
Night arrives on a million ballet feet.
Recollections of Boyhood on New River (excerpt)
The rippling stream met the wide, wide river,
And swirlets danced in the limpid pool
Formed by the union of waters rushing.
As a tender youth, I would stand and quiver
As I looked on this scene, where I cam to cool
The burning thoughts from my young heart gushing.

A winding path led up beside this little stream
Over banks of mossy green and through
Flats of mud where turtles played.
Barefoot, I would trace that path as in a dream,
Drinking in each scent and sight and sound anew.
I lingered by each lovely spot and stayed
Still as blood-red cardinals, perched high
On the top-most branches of the willow trees,
Whistled their crisp, clear notes. Then, here
And there, in the crystal stream flowing by,
Rippled ever so gently by the faintest breeze,
A silver minnow would rise without fear
And kiss the surface.

It was in the time of spring,
That emerald of the year I loved the best,
When dogwoods gleamed snowy white against the green,
And hordes of violets vied with purple passion to fling
Themselves about the rocks and rotten stumps in quest
Of choice spots where they might grow and blush unseen.

In idle gestures of boyish pleasure
I would search the path for pebbles, white as chalk,
To toss into the stream. When at last
This whim, satisfied in fullest measure,
No longer held my fancy, I would slowly walk
Away, soon to fall beneath some other spell cast
By wands of springtime waved above my youthful frame.
Then suddenly, with breathless anticipation,
I would set out for my favorite spot,
Racing through the mead and playing a game
Of tag with butterflies whose only occupation was sipping nectar from the bright yellow dot
Of ox-eye daisies growing in clusters along the way.

Wooded ridges rose from the meadow's edge
And stair-stepped themselves into distant mountains.
Just over the first ridge, in seclusion and stillness, lay
My private haunt, nestled beneath a little ledge
Where water oozed from cracks, making miniature fountains
Here and there among the rocks. The mossy ground,
Spotted by warm rays of sunlight drifting through
Gently rustling branches, was a leopard skin,
Soft and spongy to my step. Growing all around,
To hide the isle of mine from any outside view,
Were towering clumps of verdant rhododendron
And waxy mountain laurel. Trilliums grew
In the shadows, and lady-slippers, soft and pink,
Stood upright on their stems as if fairy feet,
Light and tripping, were on their way and knew
Just where to put them on.

O! I would think:
No place, not even Paradise, can be so sweet
And still and soothing to the soul as this -
A downy nest of Nature, a green Aladdin lamp,
Which only I can rub.

Though panting from my flight,
Across the meadow and over the ridge, I would not miss
The smallest bit of beauty there - even in the damp
Recesses where, half-hidden to my sight,
Salamanders played.
Before an Autumn Maple
I stood today before a tree
All red aflame with autumn fire;
And now I know how Moses felt
Before the bush in flame attire.
Each Fall I Watch My Dogwoods Die
Each fall I watch my dogwoods die
(The ones beside my lane)
And with each russet leaf that falls
My heart is stabbed with pain.

I think back when these lovely trees
Were blooming pink and white
And often in my mind's eye
That rare, breath-taking sight.

And I recall how later on
Their dark green boughs were spread
And how they shortly wrapped themselves
In coats of berries red.

And so each fall my dogwoods die
(The ones beside my lane)
And melancholy thoughts well up
Within my heart again.

But such sad thoughts will fade away
Because I always know
That spring will find my dogwoods back
Safe from the winter's snow.

And in all this there seems somehow
A message meant for me;
Life's autumn days are not the end;
New springs there'll surely be.
All poems are from A.L. Mitchell's (1974) Collected Poems (Carlton Press, Inc.).


Our Goblin Market said...

Eric, thanks so much for this post.

Judas said...

The last one about dogwoods is awesome