Sea-washed gates

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

—Emma Lazarus

In celebration of the birthday of Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) today, I post what is probably her most famous poem, written to help raise funds for the installation of the Statue of Liberty, and which now graces that monument. I had hoped to write a bio as part of the post, but today’s schedule does not allow it, so the bio will have to wait. Please check back in 2011. In the meantime I pair the poem with this watercolor of a tempest-tost morning.


Rain or Shine?


Look out the window. Doth it rain today, or doth it shine? Prepare yourself. Today is the feast day of St. Swithin, and for the next forty days you can plan your activities and wardrobe according to the old verse.

Swithin was born in the 9th century—the precise year is unknown—in Winchester, England, during the reign of King Egbert of Wessex, who ruled from 802 to 839. There are but a few reliable facts of his life, drawn from church records. Nevertheless, there must have been something about the fellow, for, both during his life and afterward, he inspired numerous stories and customs that have endured for the last twelve centuries.

Swithin was ordained as a monk and gained such a favorable reputation that he was selected as a tutor to Egbert’s son Aethelwulf. When Aethelwulf himself became king, he appointed his former tutor as bishop of Winchester, where for the next ten years Swithin built numerous churches as well as the town’s first stone bridge. Nevertheless he apparently remained a modest, unassuming fellow, charitable and sensible, preferring to go about on foot, avoiding ostentation. He also managed to convince Aethelwulf to donate a tenth of his own lands to pay for some of the church-building. Swithin’s dying request was to be buried not indoors within an elaborate shrine, as was customary with prominent folk, but outside in a simple churchyard grave, where “the rain may fall upon me, and the footsteps of passers-by.” When he died in 862, his request was granted…for a while.

But a hundred years later, when the bishops of Canterbury and Winchester were renovating the church and undertaking reforms, they cast about for relics of a saintly candidate to inspire their parishioners. Swithin had the fortune, or misfortune, to be associated with numerous miracles both before and after his death, among them the healing of ailments of the eyes and the spine, and the kindly repair of an elderly woman’s broken eggs so that they were good as new, a miracle that would certainly come in handy in any household. What luck to find a local guy that no one had yet claimed! The two bishops decided to elevate unpresumptuous St. Swithin to more prominent status. What better way than to remove his body from its humble grassy setting and place it in a more visible shrine within the newly renovated church?

Well, as the story goes, when they set about digging up Swithin, the sky clouded over, and a heavy rain began that continued for the aforementioned forty days. This would certainly indicate heavenly displeasure, if one were inclined to interpret such signs. But it did not deter the church authorities, who persisted in their plan and not only dug up St. Swithin’s body but sent his head to Canterbury Cathedral and his arm to Peterborough Abbey, rather than selfishly keep the entire saint in Winchester. They also rededicated the church (formerly dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul). At some point along the way Swithin acquired the title of “Saint,” although he was never formally canonized by the church. He is what is known as a “home-made saint,” and churches all over the British Isles are named after him.

However, despite—or perhaps because of—all this unsolicited attention, St. Swithin still has his say every July 15th, determining the weather for the following month or so. According to a study conducted in Great Britain in the last decades of the 20th century, around mid-July the weather tends to settle into a pattern that lasts until late August, and this is true for about seven out of ten years. It either has something to do with the jet stream, or with Swithin’s periodic annoyance at being kept indoors. When it rains in August, the saying goes, “St. Swithin is christening the apples.”

Apple tree

For Botany today we wander the apple orchard, examining the branches with their swelling fruit; then we sit beneath one of the trees and draw. Flies buzz overhead, birds sing in the woods nearby, and the dog stretches out on the grass for a rest. That’s what I call Natural Science.


Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain.

The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun’s hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.

They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.

In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys’ teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.

I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season’s dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole.

—Laurie Lee

CakeYellowRoses2Grandma Clarke



I hate to tell you how old this drawing is—it dates from my freewheeling pre-parenthood days. But I selected my sketch of the ancient stone calendar in honor of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, a day on which you have the greatest amount of daylight to deck yourelf and your doorway with flowers, bathe in the local river, build and leap across a bonfire, and any other of various joyful means to celebrate light, fertility and the perpetuation of life. Happy Summer!