Sunday, January 22, 2012

Poetry Illustrated

When I was in the ninth grade, my English teacher gave the class a daunting assignment. It sounded simple at first: find pictures to go with the things mentioned in a short essay by "Anonymous." It didn't involve a lot of thinking and there was no writing other than to copy the essay lines beneath our pictures. No problem, right? Wrong! For starters, this short essay had the potential of 40 pictures to illustrate that man does not live by bread alone. And if man doesn't live by bread alone, just what does he live by? Things like truth, goodness, beauty, harmony, aspiration, and "the sublimity of a softly lighted cathedral." Good grief! What does truth look like? How do you find a picture of goodness? Even the specific ones were a challenge to find, like the softly lighted cathedral and the rustle of wind in the trees. And let's see, this assignment was made about 1974, long before the days of the Internet, Google, and the digital camera. My classmates and I embarked upon the ultimate scavenger hunt, turning through hundreds of magazines, pilfering old greeting cards and calendars, and begging from neighbors and relatives. Everywhere we went, the conversation always came to, "Do you have any old magazines?" and "I still need pictures of...." I was doing pretty well in my quest until someone swiped some of my best and hardest to find. Eventually, though, I finished, and the booklet I produced is one of the few samples of my school work that I still possess. It might be considered "vintage" by now, with it's un-laminated construction paper cover, stencil lettering, dry and crackly glue, and handwritten text. But I remember how much effort I put into it, which made the grade I received that much sweeter.

Recently I took some photos of the six-year-old granddaughter of friends. It was her first visit to our farm and she loved the horses and chickens. One of the photos brought to mind a line from the poem "Barter" by Sara Teasdale. And that made me think of my ninth grade "Not By Bread Alone" assignment, which then inspired me to find the poem and illustrate it with my own photographs. Thankfully, I did not need 40, only eight or ten. It took a while to round them up, and I had to shoot a few new ones, but here is what I came up with. I'm glad I don't have to worry about a grade, but still I wonder: what would Miss Ratliff think??

by Sara Teasdale

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,

Blue waves whitened on a cliff,

Soaring fire that sways and sings,

And children's faces looking up,
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like the curve of gold,

Scent of pine trees in the rain,

Eyes that love you, arms that hold,

And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;

For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,

And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

Barter by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933); photographs by Nancy Vance.


  1. Wow. That was lovely. She'd have been proud of her student, Miss Ratliff would.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Vee! I enjoy your do you manage to get something up, with photos, most every day?? Have a good weekend!

  2. This was an absolute delight, Nancy. The words and the images made for a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your loveliness with Roses of Inspiration. Hugs and blessings!


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