Poetry Friday: Happy, The End for Lissy and Christopher Robin, Or How Art Can Heal

h1 July 6th, 2007 by jules

I am particularly excited this Poetry Friday to be sharing some song lyrics with you. The Innocence Mission is one of my top-five favorite bands. I won’t get into the many reasons why, since this blog is about literature and not music, but suffice it to say they are true originals and a rarity in the music business, composing lyrics — a great deal of them written by lead singer, Karen Peris — that are the gorgeous, distilled stuff of poetry. Their CDs are not the ones you want to choose the day you want to rock out; this is solitary music of “muted majesty,” as this review puts it well: there is a “durable, slow-burn beauty {to} their work . . . {a} softness of touch– a light that rarely feels lite.” At first glance/first listen, their musical creations are spare, slight. But, like stumbling upon an Emily Dickinson poem and reading and re-reading it, you start to see that the songs have a great deal of beauty to offer on many, many rewarding levels. This review puts it nicely: “Intimate, quiet, poetic and wistful, Karen Peris’ songs very genuinely offer a glimpse into an earlier, more innocent and childlike time. Or maybe they just embody a world very different from the too very busy, wired and weird urban existence that I know all too well . . . the whole of the record {their latest one} . . . feels as though it is floating in another realm, one not too burdened with the daily challenges of modern existence, even as it reflects on an early morning flight.” I find myself turning to their music quite a bit; I need it to replenish me (and then there are other moods, and I need this sometimes, but I digress).

And the reason I’m excited this week is because, I knew — when I decided I wanted to share these lyrics — that I would need to get permission to include the lyrics in their entirety, so I emailed the band. And Karen Peris got back to me and granted permission. This was not only terrifically kind of her, but I was also thrilled to have an opportunity to tell her, albeit briefly (since I felt like a gawky fan), what their music means to me. And, you know Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Famous,” which we’ve talked about here at 7-Imp before? Well, the lyrics that Karen composes and the melodies that she and her husband put to them are big-time famous in my world. Getting an email from her was thrilling.

When I read Grace Lin’s Lissy’s Friends this week (reviewed here), I started thinking about (as mentioned in the review) the power of art to heal, which is one of my favorite themes in all of, well, the arts as a whole (literature, theatre, music, etc.). There is Lissy pictured above at the top of this post (illustration posted again with permission from Ms. Lin), sitting with her origami friends, created to help fill a void. And, in her case, this art not only helped her cope but also created a bridge between her and someone else, in essence helping Lissy eradicate her loneliness.

And that’s what led me to think about these Karen Peris lyrics. They are to a song that is one of the most beautiful ones you will ever hear (if interested, it is off the band’s 1995 release, “Glow”), and I’ve always adored the lyrics, which to me encapsulate the power of art to heal (seriously, I hear the piano begin in this song and then hear Karen’s lovely and odd — and that’s a compliment — and beguiling soprano kick in, and I get all misty-eyed). I suppose the song means many things to many fans, but to me it’s about someone who takes her grief over those loved but lost and brings them back through her art (in this case, writing and painting) to begin to mend her wounds. Here are the lyrics, and thanks again to Karen Peris for permission to post them in their entirety:

In this story
we sit down on Luna Bridge
and catch snow in our cupped hands
and music is coming from the houses
or it sings inside me.
I begin to mend.
Oh happy, oh happy, the end,
the end, the end.

In this painting
the whole world is navy blue.
I run home from the mailbox
in all the dim of five o’clock
to see you.
Cars and trees go by me,
you are in the yard,
and in my arms again.
Oh happy, oh happy, the end,
the end, the end.
Happy, oh happy,
the end.

Isn’t that powerful?

Christopher RobinAnd then, in thinking about Lissy; those folks in the song, sitting on Luna Bridge, catching the snow; and this overall theme of art-as-healer, I was reminded of something I read last year in Three Cheers for Pooh: A Celebration of the Best Bear in All the World by Brian Sibley (Egmont Childrens Books, 2001), a biography of the bear, if you will, and a well-crafted book of all-things-Pooh and all-things-A.A.-Milne. Sibley discusses how, as an adult, Christopher Robin Milne (A.A.’s son, upon whom the character Christopher Robin was based) began to resent what he saw as his father’s exploitation of him for the purposes of the Pooh stories. He also bore great animosity, according to Sibley, toward the books that had thrust him into the public eye and made him a household name. Eventually, he wrote three autobiographical books about his childhood and the problems that the Pooh stories brought about in his life. And here’s the lovely part, how Milne found a bit of healing through his writing (as told by Sibley):

Eventually, perhaps through writing The Enchanted Places, Christopher found a sense of peace. In his second volume of autobiograhy, The Path Through the Trees, he wrote of his earlier book: “The writing and its reception combined to lift me from under the shadow of my father and of Christopher Robin, and to my surprise and pleasure, I found myself standing beside them in the sunshine able to look them both in the eye.”

“It was only after finishing these autobiographical works, {Milne} said, that he could finally look his dreaded namesake in the eye and feel less embarrassed by him,” writes Justin Valentin at this web site devoted to the bear.

Three cheers then to not only Winnie-the-Pooh but also to the restorative power of art, which has been on my mind this week, all prompted by Lissy! And to bring this back full-circle to Poetry Friday, I’ll add that I have tried to write poetry before to mend some of my own inner wounds, to attempt to patch up some holes, but . . . well, it was painfully bad. Remember the excerpt from Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, which graces our “About Our Blog” page?

Some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it. Don’t you think? It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience, whether you are the spectator in the gallery or you are listening to the voice of the world’s greatest soprano. Not everyone can be the artist. There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see.

Well, that’s me, the spectator in the gallery (and this would be why Eisha and I blog and talk up books that we think are excellent, though no one pays us a cent). And, though all of the examples above (Lissy, the person or people in Karen’s great song, and Christopher Robin Milne) are about healing wounds through creating art, I find my own healing in witnessing it. I once worked — when I was a full-time sign language interpreter for The University of Tennessee — on the interpretation into American Sign Language of The Clarence Brown Theatre’s stage production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. I familiarized myself with that script to a level I hadn’t previously experienced (which is necessary for interpreting a stage production into American Sign Language) and found sudden and great cathartic nourishment in the final lines, as Tom Wingfield realizes he can never fully abandon the memory of his family, particularly his sister, Laura:

I left Saint Louis. I descended the steps of this fire-escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space–

I traveled around a great deal. The cities swept about me like dead leaves, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches.

I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something.

It always came upon me unawares, taking me altogether by surprise. Perhaps it was a familiar piece of music. Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass–

Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions. I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow.

Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes . . .

Oh, Laura . . . I tried to leave you behind, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!

I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger–anything that can blow your candles out! . . .

–for nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura–and so good-bye . . .

Tennessee Williams, circa 1965; image in the public domainThis might seem like a digression, but there are two reasons I share it: 1). That was one of my moments of healing one of my own, personal inner wounds — or at least finding powerful catharsis through the writing. That one’s for my brother . . . and 2). Man, that’s just gorgeous, and Tennessee Williams was a genius.

I can only imagine that many of you artists out there — poets, writers, painters, theatre artists, musicians, etc. — experience this kind of art-as-catharsis healing on a daily basis or something. Is it not incredibly empowering? Anyone? If you have an art-as-healer story — particularly if you’re a writer, poet, artist yourself (but even if you’re simply the spectator in the gallery, as I am) — boy howdy and howdy boy would I love to hear it.

Cheers! Thanks again to Karen Peris and Grace Lin. And Happy Poetry Friday to all . . .

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11 comments to “Poetry Friday: Happy, The End for Lissy and Christopher Robin, Or How Art Can Heal”

  1. Jules, what a beautiful post. It’s one of those heart-swelling things when music or an illustration or a poem hits you like these do. You realize how desperately important art of every kind is to our little human lives. We can go through the motions of life pretty easily, doing what’s practical and necessary, but then if we can only remember to stop for a minute and listen to a beautiful song or read a chapter of great literature, it’s amazing how much bigger our lives can suddenly feel.

    I’m always especially moved by beautiful voices. I’m in awe of people who can just open their mouths and have actual song come out–not just noise, but beauty. That’s what heals me. There are so many songs that I tie to specific heartaches in my life, and hearing them again years later makes me happy, not sad. Because I can see that I’ve moved on, I’m not feeling so tragic anymore, and those songs are like an artifact proving where I used to be.

    Thanks for this long, contemplative post. Think I’ll go put on one of my old CDs and fill myself up some more.


  2. Wow, there’s a lot to think about here. I will definitely check out the Innocence Mission– thanks for posting the lyrics. How cool that Karen of IM actually wrote back to give you the o.k.

    Lissy’s Friends is a big deal around our house. I “won” the book and doll in the 48 Hour Book Challenge as a consolation for attempting to do too much in one weekend (potty train AND read). Lucia wanted to look at the book so badly that I got her a library copy– there was no way I was going to let my dear daughter squirrel away another one of my books, especially one that was signed to ME.:) The other day, we spotted Lissy’s Friends in a gift-shop, and I got it for her. She has us read it to her over and over, but for some reason, gets really upset when her daddy and I want to fold origami. (I asked her if she was worried the origami animals would fly away like in the story, but she said, “No!” and refused to talk about it anymore.)

    That was a big tangent.

    I’m glad Christopher Robin Milne found some sort of healing as an adult. I remember reading somewhere that it was hard for people to take him seriously in the military when they were snickering about “Christopher Robin… saying his prayers.”


  3. Poor Christopher Robin. Another reason to change the names to protect the innocent… although it is a lovely name, and I am so pleased to know that someday he could be proud of how much his father loved him, and let the animosity fade into amused exasperation. That is such an uphill struggle.

    This is a really neat post. There is so much that is restorative about the act of writing… the topic is kind of a deep well, actually, so I will prune my comments short to say this: The more I write, the more I realize that the “Oh happy, the end” has to come from me. It was kind of like what Justina Chen Headley said in our SBBT interview; that she doesn’t try to sugarcoat history, but she tries to give it a more fulfilling conclusion. For me, it’s working through what I thought was “the end,” and finding out that the story lasts longer than I could see from where I was on the page. It’s about planting my feet and saying, “It doesn’t end until I say so, and then it’s about finding the “Oh happy” for myself.

    And now I need a tissue.


  4. Well, jules, now you’ve gone and done it. You made me cry. And I was going to write you a big long post here, telling you how lovely this is. But, instead, here’s me, thanking YOU, for inviting me in.

    http://saralewisholmes.blogspot.com/


  5. Thanks, you all. I’m glad you enjoyed reading the post.

    TadMack, interesting comments. I admit to some jealousy over those who write well and can find such catharsis. I think the closest I’ve ever come to such catharsis-through-art (other than being spectator) is through acting, which I don’t do currently but should maybe take up again one day.

    Everyone, SARA’S BLOG IS UP!!! And with one of her amazing poems. This is very exciting, don’t you know . . .

    Alkelda, that’s a little mystery, now isn’t it, about Lucia’s refusal to do the origami. The problem we’re having here in our household is that, with all due respect to the wonderful Ms. Grace Lin, I simply can’t figure out the folding-a-paper-crane instructions on the endpages — neither can my husband (and I didn’t figure this out ’til yesterday after my review, but it’s really not a huge deal). I promised my three-year-old we’d get a book on paper folding. She really wanted to create a paper crane.

    If Lucia ever gives you insight on her fear there, I’d be interested to hear it (but you had a good guess about them flying away, even if that wasn’t it).

    Robin, well put about songs and “specific heartaches” of the past. Ain’t that the truth . . .

    Thanks, you all, for even visiting. I love this topic.


  6. Thank you for this beautiful post. But first of all, YAY INNOCENCE MISSION! I loved them in college (even saw them in concert), but then kinda forgot about them, even though KEEPING AWAKE is still in rotation on my iPod. Anyway, thanks for reminding me of them–I’ll have to check out their new album.

    I know Grace will be touched by this post–I totally believe in the restorative power of art. Whenever I’m going through difficult times, I always turn to music–I have a mixed tape called “This too shall pass” that I made over 12 years ago that I still return to now (although have updated on iTunes, too).


  7. Thanks, Alvina. Grace’s and Robert’s efforts with Robert’s Snow for Cancer’s Cure (I’m linking it for anyone reading this post who may not know about it) is a wonderful example — perhaps the perfect, most flawless one — of the restorative power of art.

    So glad to know another Innocence Mission fan. “Keeping Awake” is one of my favorites (“My room is held in someone’s arms/my bed is held in someone’s arms” — I love it).


  8. Thanks for this post. I am reading “Parenting from the Inside Out” by Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell. They recommend writing in a journal about things you remember from childhood, your own parents, and how those memories might effect you today in your own parenting. How your children’s emotions and actions may trigger things from your childhood, etc. Writing my memories as “small moments” has given me a lot of new insight. There is healing in the process, even if the writing isn’t “good enough” to publish for others. Putting things down in words helps me see what I am feeling and the chain reactions to daily patterns…

    Taking pictures of beautiful things is healing too. I am doing Project 365, taking a picture (or several) every day. Looking for something beautiful every single day is very refreshing, and stimulating.


  9. Yes, cloudscome, great point about photography. And I love your blog and your photos (and your haiku). Thanks for commenting.

    “Looking for something beautiful” is part of why we do our 7 Kicks lists on Sundays. I know it might seem cheesy, but, shoot, the news is so depressing and the world seems to get scarier every day. It’s really nice to read everyone’s lists of good vibes/good things.


  10. Jules, I recommend Origami, by Hideaki Sakata. The first origami I ever did was a paper crane, but I had someone to show me over and over. The next day, my desk in the children’s room was covered with paper cranes. Then, I was able to move on to other figures.


  11. I am not a big fan of Pooh and company. My favorite character from the Hundred Acre Wood is Roo.

    Go read Strangewood by Christopher Golden. It’s an adult horror novel inspired by Pooh, in a way.

    Lissy’s Friends is adorable. I really like all of the aspects: the story, the point of it all, the illustrations. So sweet. My co-worker’s son thinks Menu is tops.


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