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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Reading to Bow

This morning Bow had a less common request to make of me. It started like this:      "תני לי לשמוע"  -- "Let me hear"

I did not know what he wanted to hear. Sometime a request like that ends with the name of  Lady Gaga. "?לשמוע מה" --"To hear what?" I asked.

    "לשמוע את אמא" -- "To hear Mommy,"

So I took out the closest book I had handy and started reading to him. It happened to be "Rudyard Kipling's Verse, Definitive Edition."

I read him two poems. The first was Romulus and Remus.

Oh, little did the Wolf-Child care--
When first he planned his home,
What City should arise and bear
The weight and state of Rome.
A shiftless, westward-wandering tramp,
Checked by the Tiber flood,
He reared a wall around his camp
Of uninspired mud.
But when his brother leaped the Wall
And mocked its height and make,
He guessed the future of it all
And slew him for its sake.
Swift was the blow--swift as the thought
Which showed him in that hour
How unbelief may bring to naught
The early steps of Power.
Foreseeing Time's imperiled hopes
Of Glory, Grace, and Love--
All singers, Caesars, artists, Popes--
Would fail if Remus throve,
He sent his brother to the Gods,
And, when the fit was o'er,
Went on collecting turves and clods
To build the Wall once more!

I think maybe that poem about Romulus and Remus could be as easily applied to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, one of whom had the idea, while the other  could exploit it to greater effect. But what does Bow think? It is hard to tell. Sometimes he listens very intently when I read to him, and at other times he is clearly distracted.

"If Bow can spell out words, why do you have to read to him?" That is a question that Lawrence's wife once asked him, when he described to her how he reads to Bow. "Because he can't focus for very long," Lawrence answered. I think that is a pretty accurate description of the phenomenon. Bow could read any word on that page. But he can't seem to focus on the process of reading long enough to assemble a whole sentence together. And besides, he seems to enjoy the sound and rhythm of being read to. Poems are meant to be read out loud.

The second poem that I read to Bow this morning was the "The Vineyard",

At the eleventh hour he came,
But his wages were the same
As ours who all day long had trod
The wine-press of the Wrath of God.

When he shouldered through the lines
Of our cropped and mangled vines,
His unjaded eye could scan
How each hour had marked its man.

(Children of the morning-tide
With the hosts of noon had died,
And our noon contingents lay 
Dead with twilight's spent array.)

Since his back had felt no load ,
Virtue still in him abode;
So he swiftly made his own
Those last spoils we had not won.

We went home, delivered thence,
Grudging him no recompense
Till he portioned praise or blame
To our works before he came.

Till he showed us for our good--
  Deaf to mirth, and blind to scorn--
How we might have best withstood 
  Burdens that he had not borne!
I believe this poem is a critique of the socialist teachings in one of the parables in the New Testament. Why should you care if you are paid just the same as someone else for work that you did more of? You all get paid the same, so don't be envious. But... that is not how human nature works.

I have been taking care of Bow since he was one month old. I may not have done everything the best way, but I have done the best I could. He has turned out pretty well, I think. If somebody wants to help me make things even better for Bow, then I welcome that. But they had better not want all the credit. Because... yes, that matters. Ego is not a dirty word.  Everyone likes to feel appreciated for the things they have done and the material contributions they have made to any joint work they embark on. It's only fair.


  1. I like poetry when I can pick and choose when I want to read the poem. I think it would be enjoyable to hear you read these poems. One of the things I did not like about poetry in high school is when we would do poetry units for an entire month, and all we did was read poetry and write about it in English class. Even my middle school teachers were more creative, and gave us a chance to write haikus and other poems. However, the high school poetry units were tedious. We would read a truck load of poems for a month without any diversity. I need to read novels, and write my own content to feel inspired when it comes to literature. Maybe these units are one of the reasons I am not as enticed by poetry as others. I admire a good poem with meaning, but I could never fall all over Edgar Allen Poe and his Annabel Lee poem all my classmates were swooning over. Some even choose to reenact it for drama skits.

    1. I think all of us prefer to be able to pick and choose what we read and when we read it. Being force-fed a reading list never feels very good. This might be one of the biggest problems of the education system, though it is by no means the only one.

      I received this book of Kipling's complete verse as a child, and I have been reading it ever since, but even so I do not think I have read all the poems in it, there are so many! I never read Kipling in school, and all the really important things I know about poetry -- how to read it out loud and how to compose it myself -- I learned at home.

      To me, if it is not metrical, then it is not a poem. So what I like is how the meaning and the form work together to create something that is more than either of them could have been without the other. I think they don't teach meter in the schools in the US anymore, and if we had to read poetry just for the meaning, that would be a real chore.