Friday, October 21, 2011

Halfway Down: Milne Helps with the "Middleness"

A.A. Milne's poem positively leaps to mind today, my annual personal New Year's Day, with this particular birthday encumbered with the sense of middleness.

Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn't any
Other stair
Quite like

I'm not at the bottom,
I'm not at the top;
So this is the stair
I always

Milne's poem from When We Were Very Young has been described as a "juvenile meditation" of a small child sitting on a middle step of staircase, equally able to go up or down.

I grew up in a split-split level house. There were 3 sets of stairs from the ground floor to my bedroom at the top of the house (and a set of stairs down to the finished basement).

The stairs from the second bedroom level to the living room were the longest and most reminiscent of Ernest Shepard's illustration. I spent many happy hours on those stairs, especially when my parents were having parties. I had been put to bed, but I would "sneak" down to watch the grownups, who seemed very glamorous.

Bound By This Date
I like to think about my fellow celebrants—living and deceased—as well as interesting things that happened today, such as John Keats leaving London for Rome in 1820, 190 years ago today, where he will die in his apartment on the Spanish Steps on February 23, 1821, and the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1959.

As for celebrants, Samuel Coleridge is the first among equals. Then there's Dizzy Gillespie, Carrie Fisher, Elvin Bishop, Manfred Mann, Ursual K. Le Guin, Patrick Kavanagh, Alfred Nobel, Alfonse de Lamartine. And my favorite, the character Olivia Dunham on Fringe (the episode "The Cure" which took place on her birthday first aired on October 21, 2008.)

Bound By an Image
This birthday also calls to mind one of the most poetic visual images I have of my father. It was the day of his middle birthday, which was in June. I was in my bedroom at the top of the house and for some reason looked out my window to the backyard. It was raining very hard, and my father, who had been doing some sort of heavy yard work, had gone under the small awning of the tool shed in the very back corner of the property to wait out the rain.

I saw him in his yard outfit-—jeans and a white T-shirt-—squatting down, looking out over his beautiful property as the rain teemed. I imagined him thinking about all he had accomplished, and all he had not

He died seven years later. That's the tricky thing about the stairs. In real life, you don't know which stair you're standing on.

But for now, I'm happy not to worry about it but let "all sorts of funny thoughts run round my head."

Halfway up the stairs
Isn't up,
And it isn't down.
It isn't in the nursery,
It isn't in the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head:

"It isn't really
It's somewhere else

Kermit's nephew Robin sings a lovely rendition of the poem set to music by Harold Fraser-Simson. Sing us out Robin!