There and back again
Tunes for a Monday Morning

Travelers' Tales

Circe the Enchantress by Edmund Dulac

From "Travel Notes" by Lloyd Alexander:

"Most of us, on our journeys, go no-frills economy. But we get postcards from other travelers who have ventured before us: views of country churchyards, daffodils, Grecian urns, nightingales, birch trees. A windmill from Don Quixote. A specimen of unusual insect life, sent by Gregor Samsa.  A raft on the Mississippi -- best wishes from Huck and Jim. Greetings from Paradise. From the Inferno. From the rabbit hole.

Treasure Island by Edmund Dulac"The messages vary. Don't eat the lotuses. Exact change required on the ferry across the Styx. The best of times, the worst of times. All the world's a stage. All happy families are alike. Beware the Jabberwock. I am
only escaped alone to tell thee.

"C.P. Cavafy writes to us:

     As you set out for Ithaka
     hope your road is a long one,
     full of adventure, full of discovery.
     Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
     angry Poseidon -- don’t be afraid of them

"To which adds Lemuel Gulliver: 'A traveler's chief aim should be to make men wise and better, and to improve their minds by the bad as well as the good example of what they deliver concerning foreign places.'

Alladin by Edmund Dulac

"A commendable purpose. Travelers' tales, though, are notorious for enchancing the facts. They rank with fish stories and autobiographies, a few notches above political speeches. Mark Twain, that most reliable of pilots, who spoke as much truth as any of us have courage to bear, claimed superiority over George Washington. 'He couldn't tell a lie,' says Mark Twain. 'I can.'

"We are entitled to ask if any of these tales have credibility. They are not laboratory reports of discoveries of science, awesome and enlightening as those may be. The are not official communiques, which seldom have more than a nodding acquaintance with veracity. They are not history, an altogether different order of fantasy.  The messages of literature come from flesh-and-blood creatures like ourselves. They have been there ahead of us. They know the territory.

The Abyss of Time by Edmund Dulac

"I believe their messages are the most accurate we will ever get. They are true. As a fairy tale is true. As mythology is true. 'Myths are among the subtlest and most direct languages of experience,' writes George Steiner. 'They re-enact moments of signal truth or crisis in the human condition.' And from Elizabeth Cook: 'The inherent greatness of myth and fairy tale is a poetic greatness...extended lyrical images of unchanging human predicaments and strong, unchanging hopes and fears, loves and hatreds.'

"My purpose, however, is not to explore the great cosmologies, but the small ones; and to suggest that art is a process whereby life becomes myth, and myth becomes life....For us, the journey is a central fact of our lives.  Having set out on it, like it or not we have to keep on -- to be heroic in spite of ourselves. Sometimes our most courageous act is to get up in the morning.

Dorelia Reading by Augustus John

"Cavafy tells us:

     Hope your road is a long one.
     May there be many summer mornings when,
     with what pleasure, what joy,
     you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
     may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
     to buy fine things,

     mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony

Marvelous souvenirs. But we can't keep them. They become valuable only when given away. This is not to say that we have gained nothing.

     Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
     Without her you wouldn't have set out.

"I hope the postcards we send back are of some use to those who have only started on their own journey; if not useful, at least pleasurable. Earlier, I asked if we should trust those messages. I should have asked, Can we trust art? We not only can, but I think we must."

Off Black Spruce Ledge by N.C. Wyeth

The Mermaid by Howard PyleArt above: "Circe the Enchantress," "Treasure Island," "Aladdin," and "The Abyss of Time" by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953); "Dorelia Reading" by Augustus John (1878-1961); "Off Black Spruce Ledge" by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945); and "The Mermaid" by Howard Pyle (1853-1911).


"Sometimes our most courageous act is to get up in the morning."
Oh, to rise up into all of that clamor and demand...yes, that takes courage. More often than I like to admit, I simply roll over back into that other dream space wherein I can fly.

Good morning, Terri.

I'm delighted to have found your blog. Can we trust art? Or fairy tales? Or myths? In a word ~ yes. There is so much truth and beauty in them, a gift passed down through the generations, connecting us to one another.

I have a fantasy that one day I won't get up in the morning and that I begin a journey of dreams that lasts forever so that the irksome things of life, like 'death and taxes' need never be dealt with again. I would raise the sail and catch the wind of sleep and travel to places whose parameters and limits are set only by the outer reaches of imagination. But I suppose I'd only get bed-sores and wallow in what (during my long-ago teenage years) my dad charmingly called my 'stinking pit' (I.E. my bed)

Changing the subject wildly: Terri in the previous post you began a conversation about the lack of female ‘tricksters’ in literature/culture, so I just wondered why you didn’t make ‘Crow’ in ‘The Wood Wife’ a woman? I’ve just finished reading it and I must say I found the entire book wonderful! I’ve never been anywhere near the Tucson desert, but I could almost feel the heat billowing off the pages as I read. The characters and storyline were completely absorbing, and Crow is one of the best interpretations of the ‘Trickster’ character I’ve read: Wonderfully amoral; but perhaps ‘beyond morals’ would be a better way of putting it.

Also Johnny Fox echoed, almost word for word, my own stance about how studying poetry too closely can destroy it: “It’s magic; and magic disappears if you try too hard to pin it down.”

Precisely! Dissection becomes vivisection.

I’m now getting a copy of ‘The Changeling’. I’m definitely a fan.

Postcards from the Abyss

No "Wish you were here,"
no "Having a good time,"
only a sniff of sulfur,
groans from a nearby hummock,
three crows lifting off a limb,
probably laughing at the reader,
but who can tell with corvids.

There is lava burbling off to the left,
bright slash of violet sky,
rumbles of hard thunder
that makes the ground tremble.
An arm bone lifts from a cauldron
waving goodbye, signaling for help,
they are all the same in the abyss.

We fall asleep to escape the real world,
wake up to worse. Send poems, stories,
postcards remarking on the remarkable,
making memory when really all we want to do
is forget. You have gone into bone, sulfur,
hummocks, the violet burst of ether,
the mouths of birds.

Postcards from the abyss only remind me
of what I knew, not what I know now.
Send something more if you remember.
I will read it even though I don't like it,
even though I don't understand.

©2014 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

This was a pleasure to read, thank you for pulling it together and for the illustration citations. I will have to find that Alladin version. I think a line of postcards illustrating the places mentioned, "exact change needed for the ferry..." would go over well.--hart

Truly beautiful post, TW... I hope you don't mind, but I had to borrow from it... Lloyd Alexander said it better than I ever could. Thank you.

a beautiful post to return to from going there & back again in the last few weeks!

Yours is a dark and intimate missive meant for she who knows what you know, why the crows flew, from whence the sulfur suffuses the abyss I recognize
only from my own particulars. Even though I've nothing but hello' to offer, I'm writing this postcard and addressing it to Jane.

Postcard rceived, Michelle. Fellowfeel.


"...the violet burst of ether, the mouths of birds." Oh yes.

The drudgery of surgery
Twines me doubly into
Dark, deep, chasms where
Something gnaws on my knee
A trip to a carnival of bones
And waving rags. Drags
Me up to twirls and swirls
Of drugs. Bad Drugs. Mugs
Of evil trolls around my
Little steaming bed. Am I dead?

No, not at all. A trip to another
Land, djinns and sins, quaint
And I faint. But rise up again,
To strangers in my studio,
Telling me to kick this
Swollen leg, like a wooden peg.

Obediently and sourly, give in.
Long ago reminders that I sin
Without knowing it, That jar
Of bad girl inside my scull.

But that was months ago.
i can walk again, first
Around the block and then
A few more blocks, without
An adopted pain, that grind,
Forgive me, in my behind. As if
Young again. I stride and dance,
And in the sacred stretching class
Reach for unknown magics.

On my own carpet, flying away
Given back what I never knew I lost.
Climb any mountain, reach for, not
The past. The now. The new. And
Also ancient as sorrow and love.

Oh yes--I have had a knee replacement, too. That old peg that magically became a real leg in time. Grin.


One of the most marvellous things about your posts is the elegant comments which follow... I so admire your skill at drawing out these responses!

KInd of veterans, aren't we? I could never have written that poem, and so swiftly if i had
not been stirred by yours. It's all magical here.

love that line, "Exact change required on the ferry across the Styx." I'll remember that when the time comes

Earthquake Report

It came at 3:20 AM, walls shaking
Like being in a giant's lungs
Big breath, my own diminishing.
Cat has glass eyes glued
To the invisible. It seems to
Last and last. Now in
An accordion heaving out
Some heavy news from hell.

Nothing fell. Nothing even
Fluttered down. Heaved up
And stopped. A geological 6.2.
Learned this morning, Napa
North of my city, wine land,
Bad luck of being over
A fault six miles below.

We live with earthquakes here,
Like a mad love affair, beauty
And danger. The giant sleeps.
A small town weeps. And we
Are survive, over the earth
Of a deep stone dragon.

Hi Jane

A wonderfully dark and brilliant poem. I love the title and how you evoke those intense and macabre moments emerging from the abyss, the pit, the void in one's life. These lines visceral and beautiful in their own primal way, it awakens something in the reader, something familiar and darkly personal, something that rises from the gut and makes us confront ourselves --
There is lava burbling off to the left,
bright slash of violet sky,
rumbles of hard thunder
that makes the ground tremble.
An arm bone lifts from a cauldron
waving goodbye, signaling for help,
they are all the same in the abyss.

We fall asleep to escape the real world,
wake up to worse.

Thank you for sharing this!

Hi Phyllis

We live with earthquakes here,
Like a mad love affair, beauty
And danger. The giant sleeps.
A small town weeps. And we
Are survive, over the earth
Of a deep stone dragon.

I woke up to the news this morning as I live in Southern California, 90 minutes north of LA in the high desert area. We are fine down here but the news is very unsettling and disturbing. Your poem is vivid and brilliantly crafted. I can feel the tremor in it and I think the analogy to living like that of dwelling "in the lungs of a giant" is fantastic! Perfect description. And the ending lines conclude this poem with power and poignancy. The "stone dragon", the giant sleeping" and the "mad love affair with earthquakes" tells so much. This is indeed a traveler's tale and one that hits us with a wild and intense impact. I hope you and your are all well and safe!

My Best

btw -- just loved this!

Hi Terri

loved this collage of illustrations, quotes and poetry regarding the traveler's tales. I thinks sometimes coming home after the travelling allows us to appreciate even more what we left and what is there to welcome us back. The journey taken enriches the mind and heart with new experiences and knowledge. And while that dazzles and intrigues, reflecting on what is not there, what is back at the familiar place, the homefront, becomes a journey of longing. And once we return, off the road, a beautiful sense of appreciation is arises. It comes in like a weary traveler ready to resume a way of living that has been put on hiatus but with new insight and fervor.

Appreciation From The Road

Home again

I unlatch the door
and wander though the house
dragging the slight luggage
of my bones.

They are lined with travel,
a silk-painted weariness
of the quaint and foreign.

Home again

I find your shoes
on the table. Polished but missing
their laces.

I want to string their holes
with a long strand of words.

A skein of sentence
that unravels
as I walk this room

your comb, your decanter
of shaving cologne,

your white shirt
lending cover
to a scratched chair.

A run-on reason
of why I bind myself
to you, Our mutual journey

Thanks so much for this,
Best Wendy

This is so lovely. The traveler returned; all the five senses of home;" silk painted weariness of the quaint and foreign..." "the slight luggage of my bones..."

Thank you so much. It was a good thing to write it so I'm not so shaky now.

I have been so glued to the news...folks had alarm only ten minutes before it struck. Blessings to all who suffer and all who care for that suffering. Your fortune says you survive the dragon and I am glad for you. A powerful piece of writing.

Wendy--what I find about writing poems is that I go to places I either had not gone before, or where I am afraid to return to. Not sure if poetry makes me braver or just hauls me along by the scruff of the neck.


Whosh, Phylllis, just whoooooosh!


Wendy--That is the kind of poem I love to read and reread, and cannot for some reason ever write. The connecting of slightly dadesque images that together make a complete picture--the shoes without laces, the comb, decanter--and that amazing line about "slight luggage of my bones." Huzzah!!!


Hi Phyllis

So glad you enjoyed this poem; and I thank you for y our kind and lovey comments. Good to hear you are safe and sound. That earthquake was so frightening and the "stone dragon" I fear is not done exhaling its venom.

Again, thanks
Take care

Hi Jane

I am so happy you enjoyed this poem. And thank you so much for this lovely and gracious comment. Whenever, I need to travel, leaving home and my partner, I find something within me reawakened, even humbled, when I return. Reconnecting with familiar belongings and scenery as well as that significant other invokes both a greater appreciation/love for what I left and what I have coming back. Your kind words are deeply appreciated!


Hi Jane

I love your comment about how "how it hauls you along by the scruff of the neck". My partner is both a scientist and a writer who likes various forms of poetry and strange forms of fiction, especially Stephen King. He keeps giving me this advice about writing. He contends that I should never be afraid to travel with my imagination. To let it invite me into those dark and unsettling places that stir the blood or inflame the nerves. like the tourist, I can simply visit the location and leave. And like the tourist, I can come back with a bundle of souvenirs, ideas to either use or discard. I don't always follow his counsel, but when my writing takes me to those intimidating or uncomfortable places -- his words are out there, a source of reassurance.


Reread this, now reeling with kind comments. Not sure what I meant with "we are survive...
Maybe jus cross off 'are.'

"Just." I am still a little dizzy.

Gosh. Blush. Thanks.

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