Sunday, February 2, 2014

Behold the Boy

Mystical Groundhog Day photography by Nancy Allen

Happy Birthday James Joyce
2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941

James Joyce (and my brother Dave) both share the honor of arriving on the cross - quarter day known as Imbolc, the half - way point between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox (which accounts for cultural observations such as Groundhog Day and Candlemas).

So many poems and passages are appropriate for this day, but my favorite has to be the bittersweet poem that Joyce wrote in 1932, shortly after the death of his father, John Stanislaus Joyce, on 29 December 1931, and the birth of his grandson, Stephen James Joyce, on 16 February 1932:

Ecce Puer

Of the dark past
A child is born;
With joy and grief
My heart is torn.

Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose his eyes!

Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Comes to pass.

A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

James Joyce

Happy Groundhog Day Birthday Greetings
to my brother Dave Carriker;
to the master, James Joyce; and belatedly to

Carl Sandburg, a child of Epiphany
6 January 1878 - 22 July 1967

Whereas James Joyce was born on Candlemas Day, Carl Sandburg had the distinction of arriving on the Epiphany (celebrating the Feast of the Three Kings, immediately following the Twelfth Day of Christmas).

Sandburg's birthday poem "Harsk, Harsk," captures the almost eerie joy of entering the world on an auspicious date in a whirl of snow. I nearly posted this poem last month, on Sandburg's actual birthday, along with his Epiphany poem "Star Silver," but in the spirit of a poem for every poem, I saved it for today.

Harsk, Harsk

Harsk, harsk, the wind blows tonight.
What a night for a baby to come into the world!
What a night for a melodrama baby to come
And the father wondering
And the mother wondering
What the years will bring on their stork feet
Till a year when this very baby might be saying
On some storm night when a melodrama baby is born:

"What a night
for a baby
to come into the world!!"

Harsk, harsk, the wind blows tonight.

It is five months off.
Knit, stitch, and hemstitch.
Sheets, bags, towels, these are the offerings.
When he is older -- or she is a big girl --
There may be flowers or ribbons or money
For birthday offerings. Now, however,
We must remember it is a naked stranger
Coming to us, and the sheath of the arrival
Is so soft we must be ready, and soft too.
Knit, stitch, hemstitch, it is only five months.

It would be easy to pick a lucky star for this baby
If a choice of two stars lay before our eyes,
One a pearl gold star and one pearl silver,
And the offer of a chance to pick a lucky star.

When the high hour comes
Let there be a light flurry of snow,
A little zigzag of white spots
Against the gray roofs.
The snow - born all understand this as a luck - wish.

Carl Sandburg

Thanks once again to my perceptive sister - in - law - in - law
Nancy Allen for sharing her photographic talents!


  1. Reflects the mood I am in this Sunday afternoon while outside the snow comes down, sometimes heavy and sometimes lightly. Wondering about life and all its mysteries, how poets and writers give us something to hold on to at times when life seems bleaker than usual. How do we ever know the truth? How can we ever agree to collaborate instead of demonize? Sorry to be so dreary on this sort of dreary day in Arkansas.

  2. Nancy Allen writes: "Thanks for such a meaningful tribute....hits home on many levels. Makes me think of my beautiful new granddaughter who arrived in the midst of this winter theme, only 12 days after the anniversary of her great grandpa's passing.... such beautiful sentiment, a new life. Thank you!"