Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Rondeaux pour vous

We've been studying France lately, but I'm recently at a loss of what else to read about France so our mornings have turned from Molière and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, which have been enjoyable...but a little surprising. Take Sleeping Beauty, for example, a tale we thought we knew quite well but which, under Perrault's hand, delivers quite the plot twist (spoiler alert: ogres are involved). Today we took a break from fairy tales, much to Zoë's disappointment (she really wants to read Beauty and the Beast next) to study some poetry. 

We read a few translations of famous French poems, which were lovely translations but didn't give us a good feel of the poetic form, which is understandable. Translating is hard. Translating poetry is harder. Still, we looked at the rhyme scheme and did our best to decipher the French (my French is très mauvais). And then, because it's Remembrance/Veteran's/Armistice Day, I told the kids we were going to study another poem today that was written in France by a Canadian in 1918. The immediately knew what poem I'm talking about and started quoting it, so we finished quoting it and then we talked about the history of today and how the holiday differs between countries even though it was founded at the same time and for the same reason. 
Basically, my perception is that Remembrance Day is still about the tragedy of war and the wish for peace and understanding between people and nations. Certainly there is room for being grateful for veterans, but the feeling I usually got was one of reverence, respect, and a call for peace. My perception of Veteran's Day is different; the focus is not on why and how we can perpetuate peace (because war is a harrowing and tragic course to take to resolve our differences). Rather, the focus seems to be "look at how amazing our military is." Again, that is just my perception—that somehow the message of promoting peace and understanding has gotten swallowed up with nationalism. 

The wording of the official declaration of a national holiday (in 1926) is as follows:
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples. 
That wording, I think, is paramount to the meaning of the day, but although the day began as "a day dedicated to world peace," its meaning soon began shifting toward celebrating the military and those who serve in it. This is not to say that I'm ungrateful for the sacrifices of the men and women who have fought to preserve the freedoms I enjoy. It is to say that I think the glorification of their sacrifice is dangerous. Promoting the idea that there is glory in battle is sickening to me when we could be and/or should be doing our best to "perpetuate peace."

But that's just my perspective. I prefer ruminating on the tragedy of war and considering how to promote peace and understanding between the people of war, rather than ruminating on the glory of war and considering how to intimidate my foes. 

Anyway, we all stood for a moment of silence at 11:00 and then resumed our discussion of poetry. In Flanders Fields is a rondeau, which is form of medieval French poetry and which has been adapted into English. Its "classical 16th-century 15-line form with a rentrement (aabba–aabR–aabbaR)" can be seen in In Flanders Fields, so we identified the form and then set about writing our own rondeaux (which the older girls got fairly well and which Zoë and Benjamin didn't really get at all).

Rachel wrote about the cat (the subject of several poems today):

A mighty hunter in the house
Has yet to even catch a mouse.
On children she pounces
Off pianos she bounces
She runs and jumps as fast as a louse.

She wears no blouse,
And has no spouse,
All beds she flatly renounces.
Oh kitty cat, oh kitty cat!

When she scratches the couch, with the spray bottle we douse
If squirrels are out, then the window she mounts.
She weighs some pounds and several ounces
She loves to hid, in hidden places she lounges.
Sometimes we're unsure of her whereabouts
Oh kitty cat, oh kitty cat!

Miriam titled her poem Thanksgiving Rondeau:

The leaves are falling, dead,
With colours brown and red.
The cranberries are steaming
With children screaming
Because one bonked their head.

When we are all well-fed,
We put away the bread,
And now the pie we are consuming
Then it is over for the year.

The children then go to bed
Their pillows cradle a tired head
They are now peacefully sleeping.
Now the elders' time for playing
A game called feet and hands, but then mom pulls ahead,
And it's over for the year.

Benjamin titled his poem Pets:

I have some cats
And they love hats
They also really like me
And they like my knee
I also have some snakes

My cats love bats
They really like rainy days
I love them all I think my big pet is better because it is a moose.

I also have a spider.

I study animals
I also do athletics

Most of my cats are orange
One of my cats is name Ae.
One of my snakes is named Rumer.

So, yeah. I'm not sure he quite got it. We'll be introducing him to a simpler rhyme scheme. He's been having an off-day overall today, is just another symptom of that. He's all over the place and I've found myself saying, "Opening your book would be a good place to start," when usually I only have to remind him to "Keep working." Opening your book would be a good place to start when...practicing the piano...when doing your writing...when doing your math problems...when reading your book. Oi. It's been a day. 

Zoë also wrote about cats:

We have a cat.
And things that fly. 
Like bats. 
And she lies down, as if were dead.
And she also really likes my bed.

She was really proud of herself for working the word "dead" into her poem. Have I mentioned she's obsessed with death? She is. It's fine. We're working through it. 

My poem has to do with death as well, though Zoë didn't know that when she was writing about death as well. I might submit it for the "neighbourhood newspaper" my friend is putting together (and for which I've been struggling to write anything for, though I have several started drafts). Her idea is to just compile some fun creations from her friends and then we'll all get to read each other's work; it's a super low-key, no-risk project, but I'm really good at imposter syndrome so I'm doubting my ability to even string two words together. Anyway...the theme is winter, so I thought I'd write my rondeau about that:

I think it's no coincidence
When winter weather doth commence,
The year is agèd, dark and chill.
With shroud of frost, and heartbeat still,
'Gainst time's sure sword, she's no defense.

At last she yields to time's offense
And dies for us, at our expense.
Her parting gift is to instill
A sense of hope—

The cold and sparkling ash from whence
A new year rises—naïf, intense.
Where'er we stand on life's cruel hill,
We pause, breathe deep, our nostrils fill
With this fresh, unexplored incense—
The scent of hope.

Winter often represents death and old age, so my poem refers to both of that, but also to new life because with the death of the old year comes the birth of the new one—right in the middle of that winter season (Ring Out Wild Bells, anyone?). So I wonder what that means about the winter of one's life and hope that I've expressed that although time keeps marching forward (on our behalf and at our expense—for we just keep getting older), there is always more to life's journey.

But, it could also just be drivel. 


  1. You know, I am pretty sure that I disappoint your dad every Remembrance Day. Because clearly we see it very differently -- huh. I never thought of that before. Thanks.

  2. Definitely not drivel. For a great treatise on translating poems with marvelous examples, see Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language by Hofstadter. The poem discussed (and translated umpteen times) was written in France in French by Marot.

    I share with Zoë a life-long obsession with death. Mine started with the death of my paternal grandfather (when I was nine) followed by that of the maternal one, with whom I had not been quite so close, a few years later. One gets over these losses but is changed by them. Gearing up for both this dark winter we have been promised and the winter at the end of time's march.

    1. Thank you for that book recommendation! <3

      I'm glad to hear of death-obsessed child who turned out just fine. I'm sure she'll be just fine, too. It was just such a life-altering experience for her, that's all.

      I hope this winter isn't too grim!! I need to get back out west to see everyone again!