Blue Umbrellas (D.J. Enright)


Blue umbrellas

by D. J. Enright

‘The thing that makes a blue umbrella with its tail – 
how do you call it?’ you ask. Poorly and pale 
Comes my answer. For all I can call it is peacock. 
Now that you go to school, you will learn how we call all sorts of things; 
How we mar great works by our mean recital. 
You will learn, for instance, that Head Monster is not the gentleman’s accepted title; 
The blue-tailed eccentrics will be merely peacocks; the dead bird will no longer doze 
Off till tomorrow’s lark, for the letter has killed him. 
The dictionary is opening, the gay umbrellas close. 
Oh our mistaken teachers! – 
It was not a proper respect for words that we need, 
But a decent regard for things, those older creatures and more real. 
Later you may even resort to writing verse 
To prove the dishonesty of names and their black greed – 
To confess your ignorance, to expiate your crime, seeking one spell to 
life another curse. 
Or you may, more commodiously, spy on your children, busy discoverers, 
Without the dubious benefit of rhyme. 

Art by Corrie Haffly.

I am a great lover of finding the precise word for a thing. One of the great joys of a voluminous vocabulary is that it can (sometimes) say the exact thing you want to say.

Except when it can’t.

That’s what I like about this poem: it hints at why poetry has a place for people like me: because while the word peacock is precise, it doesn’t at all capture the majesty of the bird. The thing with blue umbrellas in its tail is really so much better. “A decent regard for things, those older creatures and more real” trumps “a proper respect for words”.

And so maybe we do need poets, “to prove the dishonesty of names”. Because, perhaps there are things poems can say that prose just can’t. The truest and most beautiful things are perhaps slippery: they can be pointed at, but not pinned. As my friend Karen wrote in a comment on the first day of this #PoemADay adventure, “poetry sneaks in under the skin, right to bone and marrow, sinew and cell. It sticks with you long after the reading.”

And she’s right. Because I first read this poem twenty five years ago, and yet I still knew how to find it. I googled “the one with the blue umbrellas”…. ūüôā

P.S. Can someone help me understand this line: “the dead bird will no longer doze
Off till tomorrow’s lark, for the letter has killed him”?

Jabberwocky (Lewis Carroll)

Beware the Jabberwocky

Beware the Jabberwocky – Corrie Haffly


’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: 
All mimsy were the borogoves, 
      And the mome raths outgrabe. 
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son! 
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! 
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun 
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The frumious Bandersnatch!‚Ä̬†
He took his vorpal sword in hand; 
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Long time the manxome foe he sought‚ÄĒ¬†
So rested he by the Tumtum tree 
      And stood awhile in thought. 
And, as in uffish thought he stood, 
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, 
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, 
      And burbled as it came! 
One, two! One, two! And through and through 
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! 
He left it dead, and with its head 
      He went galumphing back. 
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? 
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy! 
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!‚Ä̬†
      He chortled in his joy. 
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: 
All mimsy were the borogoves, 
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
by Lewis Carroll: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)
Illustration by Corrie Haffly


 This is one my favorite poems from childhood, mostly because my Dad loved it so, and his eyes would twinkle in the telling. We both loved this reading of it by Neil Gaiman, whose own love of the fantastic in story shines in his recital:

However, not all poems with made-up words are magical. If Jabberwocky is the BEST that it gets, Vogon poetry is somewhere among the worst… the third worst poetry in the universe, if you must know.

The Peace of Wild Things (Wendell Berry)

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

Wood drake (illustrated by Corrie Haffly)

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from¬†The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.¬†Copyright ¬© 1998.


I have had an Emperors-New-Clothes fear of poetry for a long, long time: afraid I was the only one not understanding what the poet was trying to say. But more and more, I am encouraged to dip my toes into the waters of poetry and adventure in¬†that world a while. It’s time.

I’m dedicating this November to exploring poetry: a poem a day, each day. I’m choosing ones that resonated with me in some way: that made me smile, think, or feel. And I’d love to invite you to join me to walk into this world of worded beauty.

Here’s something extra special, my wonderful friend Corrie (who illustrated each of the posts for the Courageous One series), was looking for a theme to do a November-drawing-month herself. I asked if she’d like to illustrate each day’s poem. She said Yes. I did a jig. She did a jig. We are excited.

So, for November: each day a poem, and a drawing.

I hope you enjoy this adventure. I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am ūüôā