Poem on a Beautiful Woman and Chinese Tale of Joy/Sorrow by Eleanor Farjeon (January 2013)

Susan's Thursday morning note January 10, 2013
Eleanor Farjeon Poetry & Chinese Tale on Joy/Sorrow

Good morning!  The feeling in the air of a storm coming by for a short visit, stillness of the early morning, perfect filler with a little hot coffee mixed in, silence from the little one’s room, the lumpy hump under covers showing an older one isn’t ready to greet the new day…small details of life…the gift of one more day.  I’ve received two books this week that are used and out of print by Eleanor Farjeon (composer of “Morning Has Broken” hymn.  She was born in 1881 and published mainly poetry and short stories for children.  The two books I received are “Eleanor Farjeon’s Book – Stories-Verses-Plays” and “Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard”.  I loved one very short proverb that I’ve written out below on a mother observing “the Ladies of Sorrow and Joy” entering the chamber of her little child and their advice for dealing with sorrow and joy throughout life.  The other two poems I just loved and wanted you to have them also.  I hope these stay in your mind this week as they have burrowed into mine after reading them.  Oh, the realization when reading that what is entering your mind will enter your soul…so rare to find when reading and such a treasure for life.  Beautiful words now to enter your minds also…love how past written thoughts are timeless and affect us now.  The beauty again of words helping us with realities of life.


Birds of Sorrow (A Chinese Proverb-Tale) (from Eleanor Farjeon’s Book – Stories, Verses, Plays by Eleanor Farjeon, published 1960)


In the house of Wang the Mandarin a child was born.  They called her Peach-Petal.  Standing around the mother’s bed, her friends praised the good fortune of the child born under so prosperous a roof.  ‘Her lot will be unalloyed happiness,’ they said.  But the mother, who had borne the child in bliss and pain, knew that no man’s lot is unalloyed.


At night, as the mother lay neither asleep nor awake, she saw the Ladies of Sorrow and Joy enter the chamber with their birds in their hands.  They came to the bedside and laid their fingers on the child, Joy saying, ‘when you are sad, clap your hands!’ and Sorrow, ‘When you are glad, be still.’  Then the Ladies let their birds fly, and went away.


Peach-Petal grew from infancy to childhood, and her days were made of light and shade.  Around her head unseen flew the birds of sorrow and joy.  Sometimes the wings of one fluttered her hair, and sometimes the other.


‘Mother! how happy I am!’ she cried in glee.


Then her mother, remembering, laid her hand on Peach-Petal’s head.  ‘When you are happy, little daughter, be still, and the birds of joy will build their nests in your hair.’


But if Peach-Petal ran to her sobbing, ‘Mother, I am unhappy!’ her mother said, ‘Clap your hands, little daughter, and sorrow will fly.  You cannot stop the birds of sorrow from flying through your hair, but you need not let them nest there.’



Poetry (From Eleanor Farjeon’s Poems for Children, 1938)


What is Poetry?  Who knows?

Not a rose, but the scent of the rose;

Not the fly, but the gleam of the fly;

Not the sea, but the sound of the sea;

Not myself, but what makes me

See, hear, and feel something that prose

Cannot: and what it is who knows?



Mrs. Malone by Eleanor Farjeon (published between 1930-1940)


Mrs. Malone lived hard by a wood All on her lonesome as nobody should

With her crust on a plate and her pot on the coal and none but herself to converse with, poor soul.

In a shawl and a hood She got sticks out-o’-door, On a bit of old sacking She slept on the floor,

And nobody, nobody asked how she fared Or knew how she managed, for nobody cared.

    Why make a pother about an old crone?  What for should they bother with Mrs. Malone?


One Monday in winter with snow on the ground so thick that a footstep fell without sound,

She heard a faint frostbitten Peck on the pain and went to the window to listen again.

There sat a sparrow Bedraggled and weak, with half-open eyelid and ice on his beak.

She threw up the sash and she took the bird in, and numbled and fumbled it under her chin.

    ‘Ye’re all of a smother, Ye’re fair overblown!  I’ve room fer another,’ Said Mrs. Malone.


Come Tuesday while eating Her dry morning slice With the sparrow a-picking “‘Ain’t company nice!’)

She heard on her doorpost a curious scratch, and there was a cat with its claw on the latch.

It was hungry and thirsty and thin as a lath, It mewed and it mowed on the slithery path.

She threw the door open and warmed up some pap, and huddled and cuddled it in her old lap.

    ‘There, there, little brother, Ye poor skin-an’-bone, There’s room fer another,’ Said Mrs. Malone.


Come Wednesday while all of them crouched on the mat with a crumb for the sparrow, and a sip for the cat,

There was wailing and whining outside in the wood, and there sat a vixen with six of her brood.

She was haggard and ragged and worn to shred, and her half-dozen babies were only half-fed,

But Mrs. Malone, crying ‘My! ain’t they sweet!’ Happed them and lapped them and gave them to eat.

    ‘You warm yerself, mother, Ye’re cold as a stone!  There’s room fer another,’ Said Mrs. Malone.


Come Thursday a donkey stepped in off the road with sores on his withers from bearing a load.

Come Friday when icicles pierced the white air down from the mountainside lumbered a bear.

For each she had something, If little, to give – ‘Lord knows, the poor critters Must all of ’em live.’

She gave them her sacking, Her hood and her shawl, Her loaf and her teapot – She gave them her all.

    ‘What with one thing and t’other Me family’s grown, And there’s room fer another,’ Said Mrs. Malone.


Come Saturday evening when time was to sup Mrs. Malone had forgot to sit up.

The cat said meeow, And the sparrow said peep, The vixen, she’s sleeping, The bear, let her sleep.

On the back of the donkey They bore her away, Through trees and up mountains Beyond night and day,

Till come Sunday morning They brought her in state Through the last cloudbank As far as the Gate.

    ‘Who is it,’ asked Peter ‘You have with you there?’ And donkey and sparrow, Cat, vixen and bear


Exclaimed, ‘Do you tell us Up here she’s unknown?  It’s our mother, God bless us!  It’s Mrs. Malone

Whose havings were few and whose holding was small and whose heart was so big it had room for us all.’

Then Mrs. Malone of a sudden awoke, She rubbed her two eyeballs and anxiously spoke:

‘Where am I , to goodness, and what do I see?  My dears, let’s turn back, This ain’t no place fer me!’

    But Peter said, ‘Mother Go in to the Throne. There’s room for another One, Mrs. Malone.’


I know that became long, but hope you see why I thought worth sending you!  The beauty of little gifts unseen by others.  Poems and small stories to be in our minds…to help us in our little decisions throughout our day that actually become who we are.  Perspective.  Details.  Kindness.  Noticing.  Again tonight we will have the chance to write in stone what we did with the moments given today we’ll never have back.  Our epitaph for time.  Will we make choices today that will be worthy of inscription in our stone?  The moments.  Our gift.  Beautiful.  Life. 


Thank you for letting me enter your Thursday again.  If you have Sorrow, may you remember to clap your hands so the nest cannot be built…if you have Joy, may you be still, so the birds can nest.  We must remember always the promise of a peace that passes the understanding of anyone looking at us, the peace that will never go away – if we take the simple act of looking towards the heavens or making one short drop to our knees for strength.  The promise of peace.  Beautiful life.  Our gift today.  Regardless of what our immediate reality is will we stop to notice what is beautiful?  The eyes of a little child?  The heart of an old woman giving us her love?  The trees with frost?  We don’t have to look far to realize there are gifts everywhere regardless of what we don’t have.  A little one who thinks pure joy is pointing to the nose and saying “Eye” with a funny learning to speak twang.  Joy.  Littlest details.  “Blessed are the children (who notice the small details) for they see God.”  The constant gifts from our Creator.  Susan

Latin for this week:
cunae, cradle - nest for young birds
nidulus - a little nest

Work Cited:
Farjeon, Eleanor.  Elearnor Farjeon's Book - Stories - Verses - Plays.  New York.  Penguin.  1960.