I got sidetracked from reading the book I meant to finish today, Niels Lyhne. Maybe it is because I do not care for the book much. Yet I must finish it, and I suppose tomorrow I shall. What did I do instead today? Some grocery shopping, a trip to the dentist, eating out, watching TV, and making chocolate chip cookies. Then–instead of focusing on my “Swedish reading,” for the eventual A History of Frances Westin Williams–I picked up a book I had misplaced a while back and read pages 44-100 of A.A. Milne’s When We Are Very Young. A.A. Milne is the children’s writer who invented Winnie the Pooh. I don’t know the whole story–although I understand the real Christopher Robbins wrote in his memoirs the remarkable truth that he grew up to be a perfectly ordinary man. Anyway, A.A. Milne wrote a four book set that are his legacy for children:
Winnie the Poo;
The House at Pooh Corner;
When We Were Very Young;
Now We are Six.
I have now read the first three, as the book I had misplaced was When We Were Very Young, and I had already read the first two… Eventually I shall read Now We Are Six. In my reading today, I noticed a children’s poem I thought I would share. I hope the reader does not find me silly for doing so:
Knights and Ladies
There is in my old picture-book
A page at which I like to look,
Where knights and squires come riding down
The cobbles of some steep old town,
And ladies from beneath the eaves
Flutter their bravest handkerchiefs,
Or smiling proudly, toss down gages…
But that was in the Middle Ages.
It wouldn’t happen now; but still,
Whenever I look up the hill
Where, dark against the green and blue,
The firs come marching, two by two,
I wonder if perhaps I might
See suddenly a shining knight
Winding his way from blue to green–
Exactly as it would have been
Those many, many years ago….
Perhaps I might. You never know.
Yes I know; a child’s poem… and yet all of us wish for a piece of what exists in Malory’s Le Mortes de Arthur in our life. We don’t want to believe the plebian surfaces of things is all there is. My way of looking at it is that Great Literature tries to square the contradiction between life as it is and life as it ought to be… Perhaps that is why the Arthurian legends end on the tragic note of the death of Arthur but the hope of a return of the King which will lead to a goodness in society which was his original intent. Anyway, though it sounds like it claims a little much, I would say that “Knights and Ladies” both suggests that the ancient glory of Arthur is lost, but that it might be again. Though it satirizes with love, I claim as much about Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Miniver Cheevy”:
Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.
Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing…
Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediæval grace
Of iron clothing…
Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.
Despite the implication that Cheevy’s fantasy was fueled possibly by booze and that he was a little work-shy, too, Robinson portrays something of what it is to have a dream too big for this world. Maybe the Middle Ages weren’t that great, but in the imagination images of Camelot and characters like the Lady of the Lake loom large. And though he satirized it, Robinson loved the imagination. And similarly, so did A.A. Milne in his Winnie the Pooh books–including the one I read, When We Were Very Young, where Winnie the Pooh only makes his cameo appearance as a “teddy bear.”