Where to begin? A thousand good places, with one of the many best being within a conversation that David Ferry had twenty years ago with students who were taking at their school a course on “The Art of Poetry” with a dear friend of his (and of many others of us), Harry Thomas. A question was asked by Allison Ellsworth – all the names were courteously acknowledged – about the poems as responses, for instance to “your father’s writings and your grandfather’s”. The reply was tender, supple, and respectful of all concerned.
My great-grandfather was a Methodist preacher who went down to Virginia after the bloody battle of Spotsylvania Court House in 1864, and wrote letters home to his wife using a kind of nineteenth century idealist language – “It is a wonderful honor to be here and to do good” – that kind of wholehearted language I found both admirable and endearing, and also naïve in a way that didn’t destroy my admiration of it.
…………………………..(Talking with Poets, edited by Harry Thomas, 2002)
No condescension within the family past and continuing, or among the three generations in the school-room; rather, the esteem which is so humanely licensed to proceed in the confidence of its precise truthful estimation.
An unluxurious incense, intense, dry, pure,
Rises from this letter and from his life.
The morning air seemed to take up the song of our praise.
It is a wonderful honor to be here and to do good.
The river is flowing past the hospital,
Nearly as wide as the Delaware at Trenton,
And like it shallow. I can see the young men walking
Through the early streets, on the way to the hospital,
With paper and jellies and clothing, all laden down.
The morning vapor is rising from the river.
There were about 200, some of them so young.
We wrote letters for them, bound up wounds, prepared
Delicacies. We prayed, and sang “A Charge to Keep.”
The incense has the odor of old paper.
Among school children, some of them so young, a wonderful honour to be there. As here.