Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Poem

In Minneapolis last summer I picked up a copy of a Chesterton poem that I'd never seen before and I've had it posted in my work space ever since. It is heavily satirical, and I certainly don't take it as "woman's place is in the kitchen" kind of poem, although in its day it may have been taken that way. Chesterton probably meant it more as a subversive attack on what he often called the "myth of progress", but I have it up in my study carrell for a different reason.

I have it here to remind me of that part of my life that is so easy to neglect but is way more important than whatever keeps me at work. Anyway, here it is. I think Chesterton wrote it in his notebook as a kid, but all accounts are that his parents were around for him so I don't think it is a slam against them.

I remember my mother the day that we met
A thing I shall never entirely forget,
And I toy with the fancy that young as I am,
I should know her again if we met in a tram.
But mother is happy in turning a crank
That increases the balance at somebody's bank,
And I am happy that mother is free
From the sinister task of attending to me.

They have brightened our room that is spacious and cool
With diagrams used in the idiot school
And books for the blind that will teach us to see,
But mother is happy for mother is free
For mother is dancing up forty-eight floors
For love of the Leeds international stores
And the flame of that faith might perhaps have grown cold
With the care of a baby of seven weeks old.

But mother is happy in greasing a wheel
For somebody else who is cornering steel
And though our one meeting was not very long
She took the occasion to sing me this song,

'Oh hush thee my baby the time will soon come
When thy sleep will be broken with hooting and hum.
There are handles want turning and turning all day
And knobs to be pressed in the usual way.
Oh hush thee my baby take rest while I croon
For progress comes early and freedom too soon.'

What put it in my head to post this poem was a powerful scene in the film Paris je t'aime where a mother drops her baby off at day care so she can go work a full day as a nanny for someone else. The sadness was gripping. (By the way, I'm not trying to guilt parents for working, and I think each situation is unique, timing wise and otherwise, but I still think there is a valuable point being made here that isn't said enough and I share the poem for the reminder that it offers to me. The lure of "success" can ironically be the very thing that makes us fail at our highest calling.)


Tony Tanti said...

I've been thinking a lot about this lately, cool timing that you wrote about it.

It's so easy to get wrapped up in work and neglect life. Work to live, not live to work...

Anyway, great poem and that Paris Je T'aime scene is amazing. That whole movie (almost all of it) was amazing, glad to see you liked it. What were your favorites?

jon said...

the cowboy one was the most powerful for me.

the mime one was surprisingly good. i groaned as soon as i saw the mimes but it was funny and somewhat poignant.

the already mentioned nanny one was very very well done. oh my.

lots of them were really cool, particularly thinking of the muslim one, the opening scene, and the last one with the tourist, but the ones above i thought were the real standouts.

buscemi's was funny, natalie portman's was good, and elijah wood's absolutely blew chunks.


Tony Tanti said...

Yeah, the vampire one and the overly artsy hairdresser one were the only ones I didn't like.

Nick Nolte's was really good and the cowboy one got me too.

The one that hit me the hardest was the middle aged woman in Paris alone. That story gave me the strangest combination of feeling intensely sad and happy for her.

My favorite was the married couple about to break up and he learns of her illness and falls back in love with her by taking care of her.

What a movie experience the whole thing was though.