Crossing the Bar For Mortal Stakes

This 1889 poem, Crossing the Bar, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson has been quoted on many occasions in life’s passages:  graduations, changing vocations, marriage/divorce, and the obviousreference to life’s end.

I just attended my granddaughter’s college graduation at which a musical setting of the poem was sung.

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,
   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.
   Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;
   For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar.

Student Observations on Crossing the Bar

The poem’s sentiment certainly matched the setting for those leaving the familiar shared college experiences to venture out on individual journeys. The two senior speakers spoke of this challenge when “putting out to sea.”

One asked: How do we locate ourselves in the big picture questions confronting society and hold ourselves accountable?

Another:  As we pursue our individual paths we underestimate the power of community; yet that is how we are able to emerge with the confidence to go forth. 

There was an aspiration in their words best captured in the final stanza of Robert Frost’s poem Two Tramps:

But yield who will to their separation,

My object in living is to unite

My avocation and my vocation

As my two eyes make one in sight.

Only where love and need are one,

And the work is play for mortal stakes,

Is the deed ever really done

For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

All of us will cross several metaphorical bars in our lifetimes. Often this arises from the never ending effort to find in Frost’s phrase work that is play for mortal stakes.
I believe that is why so many enjoy the credit union movement as a profession and doing good works serving members, “where love and need are one.”

Nature: an Artistic Resource and Renewer of the Soul

Photo by Cody Doherty

The Giant Cactus of Arizona

by Harriet Monroe (1914)

The cactus in the desert stands
Like time’s inviolate sentinel,
Watching the sun-washed waste of sands
Lest they their ancient secrets tell.
And the lost lore of mournful lands
It knows alone and guards too well.

Wiser than Sphynx or pyramid,
It points a stark hand at the sky,
And all the stars alight or hid
It counts as they go rolling by;
And mysteries the gods forbid
Darken its heavy memory.

I asked how old the world was—yea,
And why yon ruddy mountain grew
Out of hell’s fire. By night nor day
It answered not, though all it knew,
But lifted, as it stopped my way,
Its wrinkled fingers toward the blue

Inscrutable and stern and still
It waits the everlasting doom.
Races and years may do their will—
Lo, it will rise above their tomb,
Till the drugged earth has drunk her fill
Of light, and falls asleep in gloom.

Note from Poem-a-dayHarriet Monroe, born on December 23, 1860, in Chicago, was a poet, critic, and editor best known as the founding publisher and editor of Poetry magazine.


Easter Transformation


My Easter Dove 

by Henrietta Cordelia Ray

There came a dove, an Easter dove, 
       When morning stars grew dim;
It fluttered round my lattice bars,
       To chant a matin hymn.

It brought a lily in its beak, 
       Aglow with dewy sheen;
I caught the strain, the incense breathed, 
       And uttered praise between.

It brought a shrine of holy thoughts 
       To calm my soul that day;
I caught the meaning of the note,
       Why did it fly away?

Come peaceful dove, sweet Easter dove! 
       Above earth’s storm and strife,
Sing of the joy of Easter-tide,
       Of light and hope and life. (1910)


Easter’s Freedom

In a famous passage of Paradise Lost, Milton’s God acknowledges that He could have created Adam and Eve without freedom. But what would there be to praise? “Not free, what proof could they have given sincere / Of true allegiance, constant faith or love, / Where only what they needs must do appeared, / Not what they would?” (Source: Legalizing the Resurrection)

“We are Creatures of Constant Awe”

In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa* (2024)

Ada Limón (United States Poet Laurette since 2022)

Arching under the night sky inky
with black expansiveness, we point
to the planets we know, we

pin quick wishes on stars. From earth,
we read the sky as if it is an unerring book
of the universe, expert and evident.

Still, there are mysteries below our sky:
the whale song, the songbird singing
its call in the bough of a wind-shaken tree.

We are creatures of constant awe,
curious at beauty, at leaf and blossom,
at grief and pleasure, sun and shadow.

And it is not darkness that unites us,
not the cold distance of space, but
the offering of water, each drop of rain,

each rivulet, each pulse, each vein.
O second moon, we, too, are made
of water, of vast and beckoning seas.

We, too, are made of wonders, of great
and ordinary loves, of small invisible worlds,
of a need to call out through the dark.

*One of the largest of Jupiter’s 90 moons.

(This poem is in the public domain.)

“Doing Your Bit”-A Duty Every Generation Encounters

The Black Man’s Bit

by Leslie Pinckney Hill  published in 1921

“Leslie Pinckney Hill was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, on May 14, 1880. He attended public schools in East Orange, New Jersey, before graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in 1903. He earned a master’s degree a year later.”

In the foreword in the book this poem appears, Hill wrote, “Nothing in the life of the nation has seemed to me more significant than that dark civilization which the colored man has built up in the midst of a white society organized against it. The Negro has been driven under all the burdens of oppression, both material and spiritual, to the brink of desperation, but he has always been saved by his philosophy of life. He has advanced against all opposition by a certain elevation of his spirit. He has been made strong in tribulation. He has constrained oppression to give him wings.

“In such poems as  ‘The Black Man’s Bit,’  I have desired to exhibit something of this indestructible spiritual quality of my race (during WW I). I trust that there may be in all at least an implied appeal to that spirit of human brotherhood by which alone the world must find the path to peace.”  (Source:

O there’s talk from school to pulpit, and the barber’s place is rife,
And the shoe shop and the supper table hum,
With the tale of Dixies black men who have shared the mighty strife
For that freedom of the better time to come.
Every mother’s eye is brighter, every father’s back is straighter,
And our girls are tripping lightly in their pride,
And by none except a Teuton, or a slacker, or a traitor, 
Will the right to their elation be denied.

They said they were too slow, too dull, too this and that to do it,
They couldn’t match the method of the Hun,
And then to arm a million—why, the land would surely rue it
If a million blacks were taught to use a gun.
But right won out, and they went in at all detractors smiling;
They learned as quick as any how to shoot,
They took the prize at loading ships, and riveting and piling,
And trained a thousand officers to boot.

And when they went ’twas with a boon no others had been bringing,
For whether with a pick or with a gun,
They lightened every labor with a wondrous sort of singing,
And turned the pall of battle into fun.
O the Frenchman was a marvel, and the Yankee was a wonder,
And the British line was like a granite wall,
But for singing as they leaped away to draw the Kaisers thunder,
The swarthy sons of Dixie beat them all.

And now that they have helped to break the rattling Hunnish sabre,
Theyll trail the Suwanee River back again
To Dixie home, and native song, and school and honest labor,
To be as men among their fellow men.
No special thanks or praise they’ll ask, no clapping on the shoulder
They did their bit, and won, and all men know it
And Dixie will be proud of them, and grown a little older,
And wiser, too, will welcome them and show it.

A Contemporary Moment

I read this poem about wartime duty and on Monday, received these two pictures from an event at the Lincoln Memorial.  It honored wounded Ukrainian soldiers sent to the US for treatment.

Hill’s words again:

“He has advanced against all opposition by a certain elevation of his spirit. He has been made strong in tribulation. He has constrained oppression to give him wings.”

And wiser, too, (we) will welcome them and show it.

The Wisdom of Uncertainty

A poem/prose reflection on knowledge by Marie Grace.

Cloaks of doubt

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
Whispered Socrates, setting minds aflutter,

In a world brimming with false certainty,
We don cloaks of doubt, savoring questions
Over answers, seeking what life’s truly about.

We laughed, a stream over convention’s pebbles,
“Knowledge is an ocean; we are islands of invention.”
Together, diving into ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ so deeply,
Where mysteries sing lullabies, secrets are kept in sleep.

We built boats from books, paddles from thoughts profound,
Sailing waves of wonder through ‘oughts’ typhoon-bound
“Is the sky truly blue, or is it a mood’s reflection?”
Pondered aloud, our journey was an intellectual confection.

In the world’s library, we wander as tomes,
Not to fill pages but to roam where curiosity combs.
Each sunrise is a chapter; every sunset is a verse.
Our story unfolds gently and beautifully.

“Perhaps ignorance is not just a void.”
We mused, “But a canvas, vast, to be joyfully deployed.”
We painted dreams in unknown colors.
We danced to mystery’s tune, seeds sown in others.

Poetic Empathy

In this poem published in 1927,  author A. A. Milne’s words create that special feeling of a child’s trust.

Furry Bear

If I were a bear,
   And a big bear too,
I shouldn’t much care
   If it froze or snew;
I shouldn’t much mind
   If it snowed or friz—
I’d be all fur-lined
   With a coat like his!

For I’d have fur boots and a brown fur wrap,
And brown fur knickers and a big fur cap.
I’d have a fur muffle-ruff to cover my jaws,
And brown fur mittens on my big brown paws.
With a big brown furry-down up to my head,
I’d sleep all the winter in a big fur bed.

The Bells on Christmas Day-In Ukraine

From James Russell Lowell’s poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas dayTheir old familiar carols playAnd mild and sweet their songs repeatOf peace on Earth, good will to men. . .

And in despair I bowed my head“There is no peace on Earth, ” I saidFor hate is strong and mocks the songOf peace on Earth, good will to men. . .

Ukrainian Christmas Scenes

This year Ukraine moved the celebration of Orthodox Christmas to December 25.

“The trident, or “tryzub,” remains one of Ukraine’s most iconic symbols. Shaped like a spear with three prongs, its history goes back centuries. Volodymyr the Great included the symbol on coins when he ruled Kyiv from 980 to 1015.” (wikipedia)

McDonald’s deliveries.

A tree of shell canisters.

A video report from the Kiev Independent that captures the spirit of hope.

Then rang the bells more loud and deepGod is not dead, nor doth He sleep(Peace on Earth)(Peace on Earth)The wrong shall fail, the right prevailWith peace on Earth, good will to men
Then ringing, singing on its wayThe world revolved from night to dayA voice, a chime, a chant sublimeOf peace on Earth, good will to men

For Christmas Day

We live in a time, as in many eras, of no peace and human needs most plentiful.  How is it that we can be merry?  Or have hope?

The poem by Rossetti speaks to this mixed reality especially jarring this year.

A Rose Has Thorns as well as Honey

by Christina Rossetti

A rose has thorns as well as honey,
I’ll not have her for love or money;
An iris grows so straight and fine,
That she shall be no friend of mine;
Snowdrops like the snow would chill me;
Nightshade would caress and kill me;
Crocus like a spear would fright me;
Dragon’s-mouth might bark or bite me;
Convolvulus but blooms to die;
A wind-flower suggests a sigh;
Love-lies-bleeding makes me sad;
And poppy-juice would drive me mad:—
But give me holly, bold and jolly,
Honest, prickly, shining holly;
Pluck me holly leaf and berry
For the day when I make merry.

The Rose’s Honey: The most recorded Christmas carol, a moment where all is calm and bright.

Love’s Thorns-Making Merry

A different way to celebrate the season’s complex reality: Fairytale of New York, by Shane MacGowan.

An Irish Christmas story performed two weeks ago at the composer’s  funeral.  (from wikipedia) “Shane Patrick MacGowan (25 December 1957 – 30 November 2023) was a British-born Irish[a] singer-songwriter and musician best known as the lead vocalist and primary lyricist of Celtic punk band the Pogues.”

My colleagues Ed Callahan and Bucky Sebastian always told me Irish funerals were to be joyous events. At this service two weeks ago the congregation sings and dances to this ballad of an all too human realty this time of year.

Please share your joy with all you meet today by giving each a Christmas Hug.

Christmas eve’s rising moon.


“Advent 1955”-Still in 2023?

A thought for the season by English poet John Betjeman: Advent 1955

The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It’s dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
And branches bending to the gale
Against great skies all silver pale
The world seems travelling into space,
And travelling at a faster pace
Than in the leisured summer weather
When we and it sit out together,
For now we feel the world spin round
On some momentous journey bound –
Journey to what? to whom? to where?
The Advent bells call out ‘Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.’

And how, in fact, do we prepare
The great day that waits us there –
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ?
For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards,
And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know –
They’d sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.

We raise the price of things in shops,
We give plain boxes fancy tops
And lines which traders cannot sell
Thus parcell’d go extremely well
We dole out bribes we call a present
To those to whom we must be pleasant
For business reasons. Our defence is
These bribes are charged against expenses
And bring relief in Income Tax
Enough of these unworthy cracks!
‘The time draws near the birth of Christ’.
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.

Sir John Betjeman, CBE, was an English poet, writer, and broadcaster. He was Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984. He was a founding member of The Victorian Society and a passionate defender of Victorian architecture. He began his career as a journalist and ended it as one of the most popular British Poets Laureate and a much-loved figure on British television.

 Love’s Multiple Meanings

Craig Hella Johnson is an American choral conductor, composer, and arranger.  He was born on June 15, 1962, in Crow Wing County, Minnesota

One unique aspect of Johnson’s programming is his signature “collage” style, or composed programs that marry music and poetry to seamlessly blend the sacred and secular as well as the classical and contemporary.

In an interview he notes: Music is a spiritual language of the freest kind. It doesn’t matter what your denomination or nonbelief or tradition is, because it’s about connecting with something larger than ourselves. 

This work combines the well known Christmas carol Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming, with a poem, The Rose.

This was the final song of our Christmas concert yesterday.  As you listen, it may bring a tear or two.