The Friday Poem ‘Night Journey’ by Theodore Roethke

We will catch our breath if only we can make it to the holiday weekend. Rushing from work to catch the train, bus or plane we are singularly focused on our destination.

The Friday Poem this week comes from poet Theodore Roethke. ‘Night Journey’ from his ‘Collected Poems’ is a reminder to look out the window and take in the view.

“I stay up half the night. To see the land I love.”

“Poet and writer James Dickey once named Roethke the greatest of all American poets: “I don’t see anyone else that has the kind of deep, gut vitality that Roethke’s got. Whitman was a great poet, but he’s no competition for Roethke.”

The publication of Collected Poems in 1966 brought renewed interest in Roethke and prompted illuminating overviews of his work.”

Night Journey

Now as the train bears west,
Its rhythm rocks the earth,
And from my Pullman berth
I stare into the night
While others take their rest.
Bridges of iron lace,
A suddenness of trees,
A lap of mountain mist
All cross my line of sight,
Then a bleak wasted place,
And a lake below my knees.
Full on my neck I feel
The straining at a curve;
My muscles move with steel,
I wake in every nerve.
I watch a beacon swing
From dark to blazing bright;
We thunder through ravines
And gullies washed with light.
Beyond the mountain pass
Mist deepens on the pane;
We rush into a rain
That rattles double glass.
Wheels shake the roadbed stone,
The pistons jerk and shove,
I stay up half the night.
To see the land I love.

Theodore Roethke from ‘Theodore Roethke: Selected Poems’


The Saturday Read ‘The Geography of Bliss’ by Eric Weiner

The Saturday Read this week is ‘The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World’, by former NPR correspondent and self-described philosophical traveler, Eric Weiner. It’s a travelogue of personal discovery with a universal  message, “where we are is vital to who we are”.

Early in his career decision process, Weiner decided travel was a necessary component to success – free travel. He started out as a foreign correspondent, going to some of the most unhappy global places. After a number of years covering conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia he decided it was time to consider the alternative, the happy places.

“What if, I wondered, I spent a year traveling the globe, seeking out not the world’s well-trodden trouble spots but, rather, its unheralded happy places? Places that possess, in spades, one or more of the ingredients that we consider essential to the hearty stew of happiness: money, pleasure, spirituality, family and chocolate, among others.”

And we’re off. First to the Netherlands and the World Database of Happiness to meet Ruut Veenhoven, Professor of Happiness Studies.

Veenhoven was a graduate student in sociology when he found his calling in a new discipline, happiness studies. In a career story that may resonate with others in academia, he describes a meeting with his advisor. He was interested in the study of healthy minds and happy places. “His advisor, a sober man with solid academic credentials, told him, in no uncertain terms, to shut up and never mention that word again. Happiness was not a serious subject…Today, Veenhoven is at the forefront of a field that churns out hundreds of research papers each year.”

By simply asking folks if they are happy, researchers have found:

“Extroverts are happier than introverts; optimists are happier than pessimists; married people are happier than singles, though people with children are no happier than childless couples; Republicans are happier than Democrats; people who attend religious services are happier than those who do not; people with college degrees are happier than those without, though people with advanced degrees are less happy than those with just a B.A….people are least happy when commuting to work; busy people are happier than those with too little to do; wealthy people are happier than poor ones, but only slightly.”

Before returning home to the U.S., Weiner traveled to Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, and India. Finding your bliss is subjective, but deeply rooted in culture.

“The glue that holds the entire enterprise together is culture.”  He embarked on an odyssey to find happiness, and discovered one of the key elements to success in life and work.

“…where we are is vital to who we are.”

“By ‘where’, I’m speaking not only of our physical environment but also of our cultural environment. Culture is the sea we swim in – so pervasive, so all-consuming, that we fail to notice its existence until we step out of it. It matters more than we think.”

Each new chapter invites the reader to experience another place, a new culture, citizens adapting to change, and challenges preconceived notions of the happiest places.

Sitting in an airport bar at the end of his journey, Weiner reflects on what he has learned. “Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude…Happiness is not a noun or a verb. It’s a conjunction. Connective tissue.”

The shelves of bookstores are brimming with self help tomes on happiness. Eric Weiner’s global journey sets this book apart from the competition, transporting the reader on a round trip from domestic familiarity to places of contrasting mindsets, and back. It’s the perfect book for a winter read.







‘Questions of Travel’ a poem by Elizabeth Bishop

It’s summer, and despite all the grim forecasts of the end of vacations, a significant segment of the population will take a break from work. In that interval folks will travel locally, internationally or vicariously through the writings of others. They will record adventures on Instagram, tweet locations and post blogs, sharing their experience along the way. Very few will memorialize their travels in poetry.

The Friday Poem this week is Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Questions of Travel’

In 2010, author William Boyd travelled to the house in Brazil where poet Elizabeth Bishop lived, and recorded his visit in an article for The Guardian newspaper.

“‘Questions of Travel” is one of the rare Bishop poems that one can easily interpret as autobiographical. Set squarely in the house at Samambaia, it analyses Bishop’s decision to leave America and seek her destiny, whatever that might have been, elsewhere. “Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?”, the poet asks. “Must we dream our dreams / and have them, too?” And then, in the very last lines, it prompts another question: “Should we have stayed at home, / wherever that may be?” The answer we are meant to infer is, I believe, a confident “no”. Bishop – born in Worcester, Massachusetts, a New Englander through and through – was made by her life in Brazil. Brazil became her home – however eccentric, irritating, enthralling, frightening, exotic and perplexing a place it might seem to be, depending on the occasion. When she finally left it in 1971, for the last time, the happiest period of her life was over.”

‘Questions of Travel’

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
–For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren’t waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
–Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
–A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
–Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr’dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
–Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.
–And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians’ speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

“Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?”

Elizabeth Bishop, 1965