Civilization draws its nourishment from the valleys, not the heights

The previous column retold a heart-touching and heart-warming story out of Sue Monk Kidd’s book [Firstlight] from when she was a young mother with a baby girl and a three year old son. The poem that immediately follows is in effect a half-told story by an older mother that is far more heart-warning than heart-warming, but Lucy Gertrude Clarkin’s poem message to her children and her readers is as valuable as Sue Monk Kidd’s inspiring story. There is a quote attributed to Wordsworth that states, "Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility." The words of Clarkin’s poem are in effect, no doubt, the recollected and distilled words of an older mother. That poem of Clarkin's  was discovered on the unusual grounds of a country church in Kelly’s Cross, P.E.I. and says succinctly:
"If I could set their feet within / A joyous way, / Give moon to light each night for them, / And sun each day – / Give flowers to bloom, and birds to sing / Their hours away // Could I give them life, wine without / Its dregs of pain, / And turn each loss that I have known / Into their gain. / Could all my joy without its tears / Be theirs again. // I would not give them, their way / Adown the years, / Must wind through shadowed days, / And sights of fears, / That they might know God’s comfort / In their tears."
That poem could just as well, or even more appropriately, have been titled "A wish for My Children," but it isn’t the title of a poem or story that matters so much as is content. Like the content of Sue Monk Kidd’s aforementioned story, Clarkin’s poem helps convey lessons learned from life and shared with her readers.
In Clarkin’s poem there are none of the specifics mentioned in Sue Monk Kidd’s book as to how she learned what she learned, but that matters less than what she learned and shared, which has been learned before her time and needs be learned again .
A quote attributed to Marcus Aurelius declared that, "Very little is needed to make a happy life. It is all within yourself, in your way of thinking." Some more quoted words – these by Mary Jo Leddy, which are much more recent than Marcus Aurelius’ words but with reference to what was also learned by some in ancient history declare, "For those who had ears to hear, the message of the prophets was devastatingly clear. The people had been led into captivity long before the invasion of the Babylonians because their religious and political leaders had been captivated by the illusion that they could buy and sell identity, meaning, and happiness. The problem was not that the people engaged in economic activity, in the business of making a living. The problem was that they began to worship it, and submitted their whole lives to its demands."
It might be more interesting and valuable for farmers and others to know more about the life and times of Lucy Gertrude Clarkin than the life and times of Lucy Maud Montgomery, if the afore-quoted poem is indicative of the deeper and higher thought of that Island poet, her life and times and place. Possibly some reader can help me learn more about this woman who died more than sixty years ago.
We supposedly live in an age of progress and if one looks at the surface, things do indeed look progressive – for parts of the world at least, but – and that is a big but -- if one looks behind the veneer of things and looks at the human condition as a whole as well as from a spiritual perspective, we are spinning our wheels at best, or sliding toward an increasingly steep slope with no tow truck with a cable long enough to retrieve the vehicle in which we are traveling. But oh, are we ever traveling fast!
Fortunately not everybody thinks or has thought that what is deemed progress is all that progressive. Ian Robertson wrote in the Introduction to P.E.I.’s own Sir Andrew MacPhail’s book [The Master’s Wife], "(Sir Andrew) Macphail’s writings in the University Magazine and elsewhere made him one of English Canada’s best-known social critics in the first two decades of this (the twentieth) century. The core of his social criticism was his denunciation of the transformation of Canada from a predominantly agrarian society into an urban, industrial one. He opposed this trend for a variety of reasons, such as the increasing emphasis placed upon material values, the tendency of the family to disintegrate in an urban environment, and the tensions between the social classes, feeding upon the dreadful squalor and unhealthiness of the slums on the one hand, and the conspicuous consumption of the rich on the other. Furthermore, as cities grew, they drained off the very lifeblood of the countryside, its youth. The great compensation was supposed to be a higher level of material affluence. But Macphail insisted upon measuring this against what was being lost: the destruction of an entire traditional way of life, with its own distinctive system of values."
And for those who believe or want to believe that we are on the road of progress, a thought of Prescott Bergh should give some more food for thought. "We are a culture that is successful by any measure but not by every measure. Our children and grandchildren shall judge us not only by what we build, but also by what we destroy, and what kind of environment and culture we preserved for their creative use."
If one reads a lot from quite a wide assortment of sources, one often runs across people’s hope or hopes for this life and possibly the next. Words attributed to Fitz-James Stephens mused in 1862 that, "Progress and science may perhaps enable untold millions to live and die without an anxiety."
In effect, Clarkin’s poem is an expression of an anxiety or anxieties for her offspring decades after 1862. There is a brief quote that states simply, "The more of Heaven there is in our lives, the less of earth we will covet."
Here’s some more quotes as food for longer term thinking:
* Before we choose our tools and techniques, we must choose our dreams and values, for some technologies serve them, while others make them unattainable. – from RAIN: The Journal of Appropriate Technology
* If the implements of production had remained as in days of barbaric simplicity–a spade and a plot of land–the state would not have swollen into the monster that now dwarfs our petty lives. For then each man might have owned his tools and controlled the conditions of his earthly life; his freedom would have kept its necessary economic support, and political liberty would not have become, like political equality, a baseless sham. – Will Durant in his 1927 In Praise of Freedom
* It is becoming increasingly apparent that much of what is wrong with agriculture today is the direct result of farmers being guided by others whose goals and responsibilities are quite inappropriate to agriculture. – Frank Campbell Sr. in the Nov./ Dec. 1984 issue of The New Farm
* The man least vulnerable to propaganda is the illiterate peasant who possesses no radio. His views may be narrow but they are at least his own. Most vulnerable of all are the people who listen and believe. Are people of that kind tending to multiply? There are some grounds for thinking that they are. – C. Northcote Parkinson in essay Can Democracy Survive?
* Journalist Rex Murphy asked whether Canada has an agricultural policy when he addressed the annual meeting of the Crop Protection Institute recently in Niagara Falls. He told representatives of the chemical industry "farming is a nursery of how we became who we are – our social and cultural values. Too much misery has been attached to too many farmers for much too long. Canada doesn’t understand the ramifications." – from Island Farmer, October 10, 2001
* I cannot see why a healthful, dependable, ecologically sound farm-and-farmer-conserving agricultural economy is not a primary goal of this country. I know that I am not alone, and that farmers are not alone, in wishing to see such a policy....Any politicians who now think that only farmers care about farming or have an interest in it are wrong. They will have to think again. – Kentucky farmer and writer Wendell Berry, July 6, 1999, Opinion/Editorial pages, New York Times
* Change is difficult but often essential to survival.
* Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.
* Worry about nothing. Pray about everything.
* Civilization draws its nourishment from the valleys, not the heights. – Ortega y Gasset, Spanish philosopher
* Read, not to be influenced, but to weigh and consider.

Anonymous on Fri, 06/10/2011 - 09:32

Lucy Gertrude Clarkin was my grandmother. I never met her in person, but she touched me deeply with her poems. Thank you for acknowledging her maternal wisdom. It is reassuring to know that there are still folks on the Island who can see the reality of the downfall of our society.

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