April 12, 2016

Friday, July 29, 2011

Poetry Friday: Alcott's Orchard House

Last week, my family was in Concord, Mass. At the top of my to-do list was taking my daughter (11) to Louisa May Alcott's home, Orchard House.

I learned more during this house tour than I can share in one post. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the house, so here are some highlights:

  • The fold-down desk where Alcott wrote Little Women in just three months -- it was made by her father. No surprise. Alcott's writing supported the entire family, something education reformer and transcendentalist Bronson Alcott had never been able to do. A little door in the wall above the desk opens. Inside, you can see Bronson Alcott's pencilled note on the wooden beam of the house.

  • I was taken with the windows next to Alcott's writing desk. Each pane of glass was decorated with a dried, pressed Queen Anne's Lace blossom. Look closely at this photo taken from outside and you may see them.

  • May's room (Amy, in Little Women), is covered in "graffiti," her early artwork. Louisa became the best-selling American author of the 1800s after Little Women was published. She put May through art training. One of May's paintings won a spot in the prestigious Paris Salon, beating out Mary Cassatt.
La Negresse 

Alcott lived in this house in her twenties, but set Little Women here. I loved finding small details, like a chore-list for the girls in the master bedroom.

Before Little Women made it big, Alcott wrote poetry, pieces for magazines, and pulp fiction under a pseudonym.

In researching her poetry, I found, "Thoreau's Flute." Henry David Thoreau was one of Bronson Alcott's best friends and helped home school the Alcott children. Walden Pond is nearby -- another place to visit next trip.

I also loved, "A Little Bird I Am." For me, this poem speaks to the frustrations of Alcott's life -- a father who put his ideals before his family's needs, being a female author in the 1800s (she was passionate about being a "literary spinster"), and poor health after serving as a Civil War nurse.

But the poem I am sharing is "A Song from the Suds," about Washing Day. Like Louisa, "I wish we could wash from our hearts and our souls/ the stains of the week away."

A Song from the Suds

Louisa May Alcott

Queen of my tub, I merrily sing,
While the white foam raises high,
And sturdily wash, and rinse, and wring,
And fasten the clothes to dry;
Then out in the free fresh air they swing,
Under the sunny sky.
I wish we could wash from our hearts and our souls
The stains of the week away,
And let water and air by their magic make
Ourselves as pure as they;
Then on the earth there would be indeed
A glorious washing day!
Along the path of a useful life
Will heart's-ease ever bloom;
The busy mind has no time to think
Of sorrow, or care, or gloom;
And anxious thoughts may be swept away
As we busily wield a broom.
I am glad a task to me is given
To labor at day by day;
For it brings me health, and strength, and hope,
And I cheerfully learn to say-
'Head, you may think; heart, you may feel;
But hand, you shall work always!' 
When I read the last line, I take the word "hand" literally. Alcott wrote for up to seventeen hours each day when she was working on a book. Her right hand would get so cramped, I learned on the house tour, that she taught herself to write left-handed and would switch off.

I'm off to watch the American Masters biopic of Alcott with my daughter. Hope you enjoyed the tour!

Thanks to Kate at Book Aunt for hosting today's Poetry Friday round up.


Sonia said...

Thanks Laura,
I loved all the Alcott books when I was growing up with three sisters who helped with dishes, laundry, cleaning and later baby-sitting the three brothers who came on behind.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Sonia. I'm re-reading Little Women now. Her dialogue feels so modern. It reveals character -- perfect example of "show, don't tell."

Carol H Rasco said...

Little Women is one of two all-time favorite books from childhood (Heidi is the other); I alternate reading one of them each year. It was such a thrill to visit this home a number of years ago. And thank you for the poem, one I had not seen!

Author Amok said...

Thanks for stopping by and sharing in the tour. Friends -- on my way back to Massachusetts to pick up my son. I will stop by your blogs later this evening, when we arrive.

Michelle Y. Green said...

Visited the Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore and the Poe Museum in Richmond, VA.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Michelle. I still have to get to those sites. They're on my list! What did you like best about them?