Darkness Falls

“Darkness Fall on the Land of Light, Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England” By Douglas L. Winiarski

I am reading this book. At first I thought it would be a daunting read but it has turned out to gather my interest quite easily. Winiarski researched letters, diaries and journals from the mid 18th century in New England to understand the religious awakening which began in about 1741. This awakening was lead by a minister called George Whitefield. Whitefield rejected the conventional norms of Congregationalists, and began giving emotionally driven sermons around New England. Other riding ministers emerged, and thousands of converts ascribed to the idea that it wasn’t enough to go to church weekly, and read the bible to be saved. One had to personally and individually surrender their body and soul to God. The movement encouraged the documentation of these experiences and consequently a wealth of material survived. Winiarski describes the emergence of ‘a pluralistic religious culture’ that shook the communities in the 1700’s. This First Awakening was a precursor to the Second Awakening which gripped the population in the early 1800’s, and which traveled with people that migrated to new frontiers. In reading this book, I can better understand the presence of the religious fervor Americans have in the 21st century, and the tendency to be swept up by a culture in a desperation to understand their existence. These are beliefs that serve to validate a person’s sense of morality as familiar wisdom within a community, and which are totally unfounded in scientific inquiry. We see it exaggerated on the nation’s political scene. In fact, the power and dynamism of the fairy tales that George Whitefield adopted to captivate people reminded me so much of the rallies performed by Donald Trump. I am on Part Three called “Exercised Bodies, Impulsive Bibles.”

My simple explanation here doesn’t do justice to the complexity of Winiarski’s book but at least shows my interest in the topics of this deeply researched book, published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, by the University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, 2017.

If I fell…

If I fell in love with you

Would you promise to be true

and help me understand

‘Cause I’ve been in love before

And I found that love was more

Than just holding hands.

If I give my heart to you

I must be sure

From the very start

That you would love me more than her

If I trust in you, oh please

Don’t run and hide

If I love you too, Oh please

Don’t hurt my pride like her

Cause I couldn’t stand the pain

And I

Would be sad if our new love

Was in vain

So I hope you see that I

Would love to love you

And that she will cry

When she learns we are two

Cause I couldn’t stand the pain

And I

Would be sad if our new love

Was in vain.

So I hope you see that I

would love to love you

And that she will cry

When she learns that we are two

If I fell in love with you.

John Lennon (Songwriter)

Press the hyperlink above to hear John’s 1980 interview with Playboy, and a great recording of the song.

“If I fell” popped into my mind today.  I listened to a recording, read a few articles about the meaning and history of the song, and fell down a rabbit hole.  Intrigued by the the point of view in the song, further reading enlightened me about the true songwriter of “If I fell.”  I knew Paul and John went back and forth about who wrote what, but after reading The Beatle’s Bible I formed the opinion that the writing of the song is John’s, even though Paul tried to claim partnership in the writing.  John gave Paul credit for the harmony.  There are endless discussions on what John wrote, and what belongs to Paul.

Original songwriter aside, in listening to “If I fell,”  I realized the point of view is a girl evidenced by the use of the direct object ‘me,’ of the speaker, juxtaposed with ‘than her,’ in the second stanza.

“If I give my heart to you

I must be sure

From the very start

That you would love me more than her”

John himself said that the song was about a girl, but not Cyn his first wife.  He also said it was semi-autobiographical, but not consciously.  The song is  not only ‘about’ a girl, but from the girl’s point of view, especially in the stanza above.  In the rest of the song the speaker could be changing to the guy’s point of view.   He may be saying if he accepts her heart and they become two, that the second girl’s heart will be broken, and she (the other girl) will ‘cry.’   The interpretation could go both ways.  It may be the girl who wants to love this man, who is speaking, but fears the pain not only for herself, but for the other girl as well.

I always loved Lennon’s Album “Imagine,’ but after reading more about this song,  I came to respect, as a person, the songwriter, John Lennon.  I don’t think it comes naturally for a man to write from a lover’s point of view.  The idea that the song came to him unconsciously shows sincerity, and the ability to relate to the repercussions of having a non-Platonic relationship with two girls at once, especially when this duality poses a greater issue for girls, than it does for guys.

“If I fell,” sung by John and Paul is a beautiful ballad with a memorable melody.  Its music came to me unconsciously just like it came to John, when he wrote it, and in that process the meaning of the words was clearer to me. John begins the singing of the song, which convinces me that he is the original songwriter, and the person who imagined the emotion from the girl’s point of view.  “If I fell” is a masterful composition, simply told, that captures the puzzle of Love, and human feelings, especially in romantic relationships.

I chose a feature image from Liverpool, (home of the Beatles) of the “Lovelocks” hanging along the pier.  The locks attest to many relationships, in love. I like to imagine the girl walking by, maybe listening to, “If I fell.”


It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it.

Edwin Way Teale, “Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year”

The Keepsake

In the summer of 1974 I came across a handwritten Album belonging to Elizabeth Garrett Atwood (1800-1833).  It was nestled in a box of books, which I bought for a dollar at a farm auction, in Emerald, Wisconsin. Elizabeth acquired this object in October of 1828, indicated by her signature on the opening page. Uniquely, it served as a place for her to transcribe verses reflective of her inner feelings. She also carried the Album when she traveled to see friends in neighboring towns of Ohio, where she shared her Album with her social circle to record their favorite lines.[1] On these visits Elizabeth’s book functioned as a literary space, facilitating communication of friendship, empathy and sympathy among her friends, and sometimes family.  In its entirety, the collection of verses acted as a metaphor for the events, and tragedies in her life e.g. marriage, in 1829, human loss, especially the death of her brother John,[2] and that of her two-years old daughter Ellen, in 1832. And finally, for her own death in 1833. 

A few months after having the Album Elizabeth inserted a poem of an unknown author, called “The Keepsake.”[3] I came to realize that “The Keepsake” represented the Album itself.  The Album was, and still is the keepsake mentioned in the poem, as follows.

Oh! Know it thou why, to distance driven

When friendship weeps the parting hour

The simplest gift that moment given

Long, long retains a magic power.

Still when it meets the musing view

Can half the theft of time retrieve.

The scenes of former bliss renew

and bid each dear idea live.

It boots not if the pencil’d rose

Or severed ringlet meet the eye.

On India’s spark’ling gems enclose

The talisman of sympathy.

Keep it, yes keep it for my sake

On fancy’s ear still breathes the sound

Nor time the potent charm shall break

Nor lose the spell by nature bound.

New Lisbon Feb. 8th 1829                    Elizabeth Y. Garrett

“A small memento left behind – Recalls an absent friend to mind.”

As the quote at the foot of the poem suggests, the purpose of her Album was to remember absent friend(s). The irony of Elizabeth’s choice to include “The Keepsake” in her Album lies in the idea that her Album blossomed into ‘a talisman of sympathy,’ even after her own death.

The powerful tone of this very old poem, probably of British origin, is in my estimation, the reason why the Album survived.  Someone close to Elizabeth brought her book halfway across the country from Ohio, to Wisconsin.  By surprise it ended up in a box of books at an auction for me to buy, for a dollar, when it could have ended up out in the rain. (I was the only person to bid on the box.)  I knew when I unearthed the book from the box that it was special if not a little too gloomy for a nineteen-years old. I kept it anyway and preserved it in memory of Elizabeth and her long-gone community of friends, who live on in 2023. I guarded Elizabeth’s Album, her keepsake, as the words in the poem suggested, “Keep it, keep it for my sake.” I still have it today, almost 200 years after her writing. 

Elizabeth brilliantly, if not unknowingly, reshaped aspects of her own life in the totality of her book.  The Album, probably a gift of friendship as the first verse of poem states, remained as a ‘charm that time would not break,’ and ‘its spell was bound by nature.’  Its impermeable quality calls into question whether or not our objects hold a ‘magic power’ long after we are gone. but not just magic for magic’s sake.  For Elizabeth, the value of her book lay in the power of a gift given out of friendship. Elizabeth, a religious Baptist was also exposed to a variety of secular literature of Asian influence, suggested by the idea that a keepsake was akin to the mystery hidden within ‘India’s sparkling gems.’ If we don’t believe in gems and magic, we might concur that our possessions can at least hold memories that live on in the minds of others, if others choose to keep them, making clear that our possessions outlive our own fragile existence.  The Album honors Elizabeth and the people in her life, but it also honors the writers and poets whose work they chose to transcribe, ‘to bid each dear idea live.’  These poems help us today to understand the universal complexity of grief and sorrow that our ancestors felt.  As an object, the Album sustains its impact primarily because of the written words put down inside it, by curious minds of people long gone, with the ability to express feelings and thoughts. Elizabeth truthfully spoke about the importance of feelings at the beginning of her book:

“The feelings of the heart leave traces on the memory more sweet as well as more indelible,

than any action of the Mind _ and a glance of the eye which awakens one chord of affection,

will be remembered, when the brightest sallies of intellect-the happiest strokes of wit, are banished forever- EYG”

Words are put down to preserve our everlasting feelings, a testimony to our existence. No one felt this more deeply than Elizabeth.   

Brokenhearted Elizabeth wrote her final transcription “Is it well with the child?” on the evening of Dec. 31st, 1832, interestingly on the last day of the year.  This poem reflected Elizabeth’s desire to communicate with her dead child, baby Ellen.  The importance of the Album lived on for her friends, even after this entry. On January 20th, and 23rd, 1833, a mysterious friend named O Stoughton wrote three separate verses within. These were called, “oh still as the circle of social affection,” “Oh if there is no human tear,” and “The flower is not whithered, it is only transplanted.” All written in honor of Elizabeth’s loss, and losses.

Elizabeth died from consumption on November 3, 1833, 15 months after the death of Ellen.   Four months after her death, on April 20th, 1834, the book’s final verse, “The close of life,” was inserted by E. A. Wardlane, Nelson.  The initials E.A. likely stand for her husband Edwin Atwood, and Wardlane may have been a place name in Nelson, unless it is the person’s last name. Not totally clear, but it’s my sense that the Album remained in the home of her husband Edwin Atwood and from there made its way west. One final time, the ‘talisman of sympathy’ served as a mouthpiece for Elizabeth, and for her society.   

Elizabeth is a legitimate author, and editor of this small meaningful book.[4]  In the first quarter of the 19th century illness and death were the norm, and grieving was ever present in people’s lives. The keeping and creation of her Album was an extension of her grieving, the importance of relationships in her life, and of her need to share her feelings with her friends through literature. She had a natural, and uncensored tendency to express herself freely and the Album was a vehicle for her to engage her friends, in joy and in grief. Relationships mattered to Elizabeth.  They were the breath of her existence and she gave them relevance in her Album. In modern times, the Album is a magnificent example of a 19th century process of social media. 

In the words of her Death Notice, ‘Elizabeth was a woman of uncommon intelligence.’ This could not be further from the truth.  She had a magnetic personality, which followed her wherever she went, and continues to emanate from her Album to this day.   She was an ingenious and creative writer, an editor, promoter and preserver of literature, as witnessed in her keepsake, the Album. She should be remembered for her contributions.

[1] Of interest is how Elizabeth and her friends gained access to a variety of literature in Nelson, Ohio, in 1833.  Her early handwriting samples from 1815-1816 contained a wide variety of transcriptions of English poetry.  These were done in Mercer, which was part of Ohio at the time.  But in Nelson, did the family library have books and magazines?  When she traveled to the homes of friends, where she would stay for several days or even weeks, it appears they shared selections from their own library, in her Album.  How this literature reached the frontier of Ohio is another point of research.

[2]  She mourned John’s death for an entire year, but the sorrow over his loss never left her.     

[3] In my internet search, I found “The Keepsake” with an unknown author, published in “A Lover’s Dictionary; A Poetical Treasury,” 1867, thirty-eight years after Elizabeth chose it for her book.    I believe the author was British, rather than American, evidenced by the use of the expression in the third stanza, first line, ‘It boots not…’ meaning ‘it serves not, or isn’t useful.  This phrase was spoken by William Shakespeare’s King Richard to Mowbray in the following: “It boots thee not to be compassionate.” By the same token, it’s not impossible that an early American poet re-coined the words to fit his or her poem, but that would mean the expression, in use since before the 17th century, reached the pen of a colonial writer.

[4] Elizabeth, coinciding with her Album, kept a personal journal during the last seven years of her life. It’s hard to believe that Elizabeth didn’t keep a journal as a young girl, though no surviving papers exist to my knowledge.

The Time Will Come

The time will come when, with elation

You will greet yourself arriving 

At your own door, in your own mirror,

And each will smile at the others welcome,

And say, sit here. 


You will love again the stranger who was yourself.

By Derek Walcott

     My friend Sally sent me this poem several month ago.  I take it as a message to make peace with oneself. Before we forgive others, we must forgive ourselves.  

     Another version of this theme is found in a jingle my mom taught to me when I left her house one day.  It goes like this:

I’ve gone out to look for myself, if I should return before I get back, keep me here.

     And finally a quote by David Bowie:

Aging is an extraordinary process whereby

You become the person you always should have been.”

I like David’s quote because we race through life trying to figure out what we want to be and do when we grow up, only to realize that our true selves were within us all the time.  I like to relive the idyllic aspects of my childhood and re-create them whenever I can.  Things like chasing butterflies and collecting crickets for that much loathed science project you had to do at the beginning of every school year.  I hated jabbing those pins into the thoraces of those poor insects and sticking them on cardboard poster board.  Egads! then you had to label them.  I went back to chasing butterflies instead and looking at wildflowers in the field, and consequently failed the school assignment.   I’m happy I failed, because to this day I can come back to myself and the child that lives within, and say:

This is who I was, this is who I am. GRB

Beans, Corn and Squash

Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book “Braiding Sweetgrass” (2013 Milkweed Editions, Canada) incorporates indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge to teach us about the world of plants. Her writing is poetic and like a prayer or chant, gently guides the reader through her prophetic thought. In the chapter called ‘Three Sisters’ Robin explains the relationship of beans, corn and squash as they grow together in the garden. When the English came to the New World they were perplexed by the native’s tendency to grow their plants in groupings instead of rows. As it turned out these groupings were based on the native’s experience that together, plants such as beans, corn and squash, flourish in a symbiotic relationship, and engage and share nutrients with their roots in the soil. Their reciprocal communication evolves naturally once their seeds grow to form vertical foliage, and flowers and fruits. They eventually not only give to each other but to the planter who inserted them in the earth to begin with. As an example, plants need nitrogen to grow and the nitrogen provided by the air isn’t enough so beans, characteristic of legumes, reaching into the sky, have the ability to draw nitrogen down into the soil benefitting not only them but the corn and squash that share their space. The beauty of the Three Sisters, represented in color by green for beans, yellow for corn and orange for squash is also founded in a native legend which describes how when the people were dying of hunger three beautiful women came to visit the village in colored garb. Symbolically they represented the three plants that eventually fed the people and saved them from famine. Kimmerer goes on to explain that each of the vegetables alone does not provide the necessary nutrients for a complete meal, but when eaten together, provide the perfect balance of vitamins and nutrients needed for a balanced diet. Kimmerer’s writing exudes positivity and the virtue of Simplicity. In a prior chapter called “Epiphany in the Beans’ she begins with a quote: It came to me while picking beans, the secret of happiness. I realized from this quote that our everyday living entangles us in rushing around and overthinking, when if we would just slow down we can find the joy in the simple things. This may be getting off track a tad but the same idea came to me when I was at the grocery store packing my groceries. Feeling at peace with myself, I looked up at the cashier and said to her: “This is going to sound crazy to you but I really like to pack groceries.” She agreed it was a mindless task. Anyway, back to topic, the next time I go to the store I will be sure to load up on scrumptious greens beans, yellow corn, and orange squash to bring home for my next feast. In the meantime I shall carry on my reading of “Braiding Sweetgrass” as I know it’s bound to be filled with more, and greater wisdom.

All Aboard!😊

Boothbay Railway Village
October 10th, 2022

The place felt a little contrived, in some respects. On the other hand lots of history on the Maine railway system was on display. Worth going to just for the car museum and older buildings saved from Olden days of Boothbay, Maine. Couldn’t take the train but got this cute video capturing the sound and excitement from an adult tour group bussed in from Wisconsin. They were having a blast.