Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Preparation, Foolish Preparation

Today is Jane Austen's birthday, which I learned while in downward dog during yoga class this morning. It just happened to come up--too weird to explain how or why.

I had arrived in one of my legendary Christmas funks.

"Why not spend the whole day at yoga," my husband suggested before I left.

"The funk is your fault," I said. "It started when I was wandering around the mall yesterday looking for the perfect present for you."

Anyway. Finding out it was Jane Austen's birthday brought me right out of it.

"Why not seize the pleasure at once?" she wrote. "How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation?" An observation that perfectly suits the holiday season, it seems to me. By the time Christmas actually gets here, I'm too exhausted and frazzled to enjoy it.

During relaxation, my favorite part of yoga, I took myself on a little mind's-eye journey to Jane Austen's house in Chawton, where I once spent a lovely afternoon with my English cousins. Here's the poem I wrote when I got home from the trip. It was published in the Journal of the Jane Austen Society--a copy of which resides in the archives at Chawton, which makes me feel extremely happy.

At Chawton

Under the oak tree you planted
the guide lectures a new group of tourists.
Soon she will show them the drawing room,
your jewelry,
your music on the fragile spinet,
and a first edition of Pride and Prejudice
once owned by the wife of William Lamb.

She will lead them to the dining parlor,
to the collection of silhouettes,
the Wedgewood you chose,
the stove that warmed you,
the portrait of your brother.
She will identify your writing table.

Leaving, she'll make the hall door creak,
smile, say, "Jane valued this--
it warned her when someone was coming."

Upstairs, they'll see your bedroom--
the quilt you made, your silk shawl,
the cup-and-ball you played with
when your eyes hurt to much to write--
the room from which laughter spilled
when you read scenes to your sister.

We are laughing in your garden,
picnicking on strawberries and cream
in rare English sunshine.
The guide frowns to quiet us.

But it is lovely,
in the middle of our lives,
to be amazed--

that your tree can shade us,
that your blue delphiniums
are taller than we are,
that in another century
you glanced up from your spindly table
and saw all
that surrounds us.

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