Last week when we visited Maine for our triennial family reunion, we buried some of my father’s ashes in the Bates plot at the Turner cemetery. (The rest of the ashes we buried two years ago in Sewanee.) Turner is close to the apple orchards where his grandmother Sarah Ricker was born and raised and where she built a cottage that we still visit to this day. I of course read one of my father’s poems for the occasion.
I turned to his juvenilia and chose the first poem he wrote. He was 14, a sophomore at Evanston Township High School, and the poem was an in-class assignment. One sees in it his love for the boyhood summers he spent in Maine, and I liked that we were returning him to the place of his childhood innocence.
The poem is clearly inspired by Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” which perhaps he encountered in the same English class. Like Wordsworth, my father was a “worshipper of nature” all of his life, all 90 years of them.
Last summer I went to Maine
And I saw in the windblown skies
As I was walking down a lane
The fluttering butterflies
Drifting gently ‘cross the grain
Where the daisy lies
And I wondered when the skies were dark,
And when the sun no longer shined,
If they would vanish like a spark
And leave no trace behind;
Leaving only one soft mark
Across the poet’s mind.
My father too has vanished like a spark. He too has left a mark across our minds.
Added note: I’ve never mentioned the plaque that my mother put up to mark the rest of my father’s ashes in Sewanee, where my father taught his entire life. Taken from an essay by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, my father’s major research subject, it reads, “L’art, de plus en plus, aura une patrie.” Which means, “Art, more and more, will have a homeland.”
My father dedicated his life to making this a reality.