Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Arrow, the Song, the Poem and Buttonholes

I love poetry,

but it seems somehow I forgot that

in the middle of doing this thing called LIFE.

McDaniel recently brought to my attention that she needed to memorize a poem for school.

That old love was immediately awakened.

She had to choose the poem from a website of lots of different eras and styles and poets.

I told her it would be easier to memorize something that made sense to her.

We read A LOT of poetry that day that did not make any sense.

There was an opportunity to enter a competition reciting a poem with feeling.

We watched some videos of kids doing just that.

They were amazing.

McDaniel chose this poem:

"The Arrow and the Song"
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

I memorized it right along with McDaniel because I listened to her practice over and over and over.

And also, because I really, really liked it.

She said that she was able to recite it perfectly in front of her entire English class on Tuesday.

I forgot to ask if she slipped into the British accent 
she was prone to do while she practiced.

The teacher suggested McDaniel enter the poetry reading contest, which she promptly poo-pooed.

 We have a beret for her to wear should she change her mind.

In the bleachers after their basketball game Tuesday night, McDaniel and her friend recited their poems to me and her friend's mom.

Her friend's poem took me off guard:

by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

I was sitting next to the girl's mother as I listened to her daughter unaffectedly speak these words that so affected me.

We had just been talking about all the unnecessary pressures on our daughters in school and sports. We talked of dances and tests that revealed what our children should be when they grow up.

A journalist for McDaniel
but, oddly, enough, 
also a construction worker
or brick layer.

Which is a bit different than 
the tattoo artist suggestion
she got when she last took
this career test in middle school.

And then this poem spoke out into the air 

louder than the

dribbling basketballs

or squeaking tennis shoes

or blasting rap song 

in the gym.

When the poem was done and McDaniel and her friend skipped off unchanged to get pizza, 

I turned to her mom, who's eyes were misty like mine and I said something like,

"See? We need them to realize they are buttonholes. Buttonholes!!"

And she burst out laughing because, well,

I had just screamed buttonholes really loud
which sounded a lot like a slightly different word,

in a gym that suddenly had gotten a whole lot quieter.

I am reading Emily P. Freeman's book "A Million Little Ways".

It says "uncover the art you were made to live" right on the cover.

I keep reading this one section over and over because it is just so "a-ha moment" powerful.

Emily is describing what it means to be God's workmanship:

We are created in Christ Jesus, on purpose, with purpose.

Adam and Eve were made in his image and given a job to do.

You and I are remade in Christ, and we're given a job to do too.

But, this type of work we are to do is not the kind that comes from the outside, like a task we discover or approach. It isn't a talent or skill we go to school to perfect. This word for "work" is the type that assumes the completion of an inner desire.

When a poet writes a poem, he isn't writing a technical manual or a how-to booklet. A poet writes to express an inner desire.

We see that same idea here in Ephesians 2:10, where it essentially says, 
You are a poem written inside the person of Jesus Christ. You exist to carry out his inner desire. This is your good work.

So this is our job, to carry out the inner desire of Christ. And the inner desire of Christ is to bring glory to the Father.

I would've sworn to you that in that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem,

that my "work",

my writing,

was what was being shot into the air

or breathed into it

by ME.

But Emily Freeman helped me realize that




And God is the archer.

God is the breath of the song.

God alone is the glory in the poetry

that is me.

And may I, 

like the buttonhole,

never forget that.


  1. Wonderful post! I enjoyed the poems that you shared and smiled as I imagined the girls reciting them. Good choices! And then your insight into Ephesians 2:10 ( a favorite verse)-- "we are arrows shot into the air and God is the archer" True.

  2. Thank you, Carol! And thanks for reading.

  3. Oh how glad I popped in here from 3Dlessons. I LOVED this post, and both of the chosen poems. Wow.

  4. Thank you, Elizabeth! I just read your post. Wow--thank you for sharing, that was beautiful.

  5. Karmen, it's so lovely to "meet you" today. So glad you linked up at Thought-Provoking Thursday! I taught high school language arts for 17 years, and that Longfellow poem is one of my favorites. Thanks for introducing me to "Famous." Let's be buttonholes together for Him. :)

  6. Good post Karmen! I have Emily's book sitting on my shelf but am in the middle of another that is proving a challenge (ie: God is working on me) but am anxious to read it.

  7. Lyli,

    Love this: “Let’s be buttonholes together for HIm”!! I’m in. Thanks for your sweet introduction.

  8. MIndy,

    I know those kind of books that you creep through because they are wringing you out. Grace for the Good Girl did that to me. And now A Million Little Ways. It will be waiting on you in good time. I meant to comment on your last post: happy belated birthday!

  9. This is a beautiful post, Karmen! As a former middle school teacher who used to have her students memorize a poem they loved, I am so glad that the tradition continues. Your daughters poem was great, but that last Good on so many levels. And we are God's poem? goosebumps and gratitude!

  10. Ah this is precious... So glad I stumbled across you from Barbie's link up. First time...won't be the last. Thanks!

  11. Sumita10:36 AM

    WOW!!! Loved this post :)

  12. Susan,

    I know! You are so right to have goosebumps over getting to live out the poetry God wrote for us!

  13. Lorretta,

    Thanks for stopping by. I love your latest post!

  14. Sumita,

    Our talk at the hospital inspired me to write this post--so thank you!!

  15. Incredible...I'm so glad your daughter had to memorize a poem. Look at how many of us were blessed in the journey. :)

  16. I have a hard time with remembering poems :-) Nice job with the post!
    New GFC follower :-). If you haven't had a chance to follow back, stop by and find our buttons on the top and bottom of our homepage. I am looking forward to seeing you there ;-)

  17. Aha moments really are exciting. I liked your post. I always do. Thanks for linking to Super Sunday Sync.


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