The Books of My Numberless Dreams

A few poems from “The Land of Spices”

Posted on: June 5, 2007

The poems in the story acted as a bond between the Reverend Mother and her father as well as Anna; as evidence of the curriculum’s deep British impress; of the contemplative and more general religious life; and more practically as a good study aid for Anna (she believed that the early memorisation of poems developed a good study skill). I post a few of them here because I really enjoyed them.

Peace

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— Henry Vaughan

The words of the poem were sown, by one of the sisters, on a decorative bit of material. When Anna was six, too young to work with the Second Preparatories, she was given work to do on her own. Apparently after she was finished she would observe the sister’s work and so memorised the Peace. When she recites it for the school it brings back bittersweet memories of her own studies with her father who, I forgot to mention, was agnostic.

Prayer

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— George Herbert

This was another poem Mère Marie-Hélène had no doubt learned from her father. Lines from the poem are written here and there, but the most complete mention occurs near the end when she is walking down her favourite path and awaiting an important telegram from the order’s council. As she thinks of the last four lines she believes that her mentor, the Mère Générale she worked for in Brussels would have found it an apt description of the contemplative convent life.

Night-peice: To Julia

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— Robert Herrick

When Anna was given the task to learn a poem for recitation every Sunday, Reverend Mother provided the selection but Anna was free to pick which poem she would learn. The Herrick poem was one of them. Sister Mary Eugenia, assistant to the Reverend Mother, remarked that it was an “odd choice” to say the least.

For more information about Vaughan, Herbert, Herrick, and other 17th century British poets visit the Luminarium. (Thanks to Sylvia for recommending this site.)

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3 Responses to "A few poems from “The Land of Spices”"

Oh, I love Herrick! He’s got a poem with the word “liquefaction” in–not exactly usual word choice. Here’s the stanza (line breaks and punctuation probably not right):

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
then, then, methinks
how sweetly flows
the liquefaction of her clothes.

Thanks for commenting Kirsten and for leading me to that great little poem. I think that if one had to specialise in any particular area of pre-20th C poetry, 17th C would take it. I’d never heard of Herrick before I read this book.

For others here’s the complete version of “Whenas in silks my Julia goes”.

Whenas in silks my Julia goes
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free; 5
Oh how that glittering taketh me!

Taken from the dependable Bartleby site.

One of my favourite books. So finely done. I speak as an English lady who’s worked with Irish, French and Belgians…!
Any ideas on the significance of ‘Julia’ in the story?

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