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R.I.P., Madeleine L'Engle

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As most of you know by now, Madeleine L'Engle has died at age 88.

I liked the original Wrinkle in Time trilogy a fair bit as a kid, I think most especially the third one, though my memories of it are not very clear. I read Many Waters years later, during college, and found it disappointing; the other three, it seemed to me, steadily grew in maturity and depth, whereas Many Waters felt kind of slight.

Somehow, I never read the rest of the kairos books, the second-generation O'Keefe ones. Maybe it's time to go do that.

With some trepidation, because it was a mainstream book, I did read Meet the Austins as a kid, and liked that quite a lot too. (It's possible I didn't read this 'til college, but I think it was earlier.)

Sometime during or shortly after college, I decided to continue with the Austins books. I wasn't thrilled with The Moon by Night, but I loved A Ring of Endless Light. It seemed to me a superb novel about grief and loss, and although I didn't love it as much on second read a few years later, I think it says some wise and helpful things.

My copy has four book darts in it:

The first marks a line from Vicky's grandfather: "To leave a friend is like a death and calls for grieving."

Another is Grandfather quoting from Elie Wiesel: "Suffering, in Jewish tradition, confers no privileges. It all depends on what one makes of that suffering. It is possible to suffer and despair an entire lifetime and still not give up the art of laughter."

The other two are poems, by Vicky. One is a sonnet about grief:

The earth will never be the same again.

Rock, water, tree, iron, share this grief

As distant stars participate in pain.

A candle snuffed, a falling star or leaf,

A dolphin death, O this particular loss

Is Heaven-mourned; for if no angel cried,

If this small one was tossed away as dross,

The very galaxies then would have lied.

How shall we sing our love's song now

In this strange land where all are born to die?

Each tree and leaf and star show how

The universe is part of this one cry,

That every life is noted and is cherished,

And nothing loved is ever lost or perished.

Vicky is 15 (nearly 16) in the book, and she acknowledges that she's not a brilliant poet, but I like "her" poems nonetheless. I'll close with the other one that I marked, this one a rondel:

A great ring of pure & endless light

Dazzles the darkness in my heart

And breaks apart the dusky clouds of night.

The end of all is hinted in the start.

When we are born we bear the seeds of blight;

Around us life & death are torn apart,

Yet a great ring of pure & endless light

Dazzles the darkness in my heart.

It lights the world to my delight.

Infinity is present in each part.

A loving smile contains all art.

The motes of starlight spark & dart.

A grain of sand holds power & might.

Infinity is present in each part,

And a great ring of pure & endless light

Dazzles the darkness in my heart.

4 Comments

You know, I always had the idea that I was going to write her and ask her about the dramatic difference between the portrayals of lesbian characters in A Severed Wasp and A House Like a Lotus. Now I have to hope that someone else did and put it in a book somewhere.

My mother met her at a retreat once and spoke highly of her personality. She passed on a story L'Engle told about teaching in a writing workshop that a complete story addresses, in some form, a mystery, sex, and religion -- to which a quick-witted student supplied the shortest possible story: "Oh my God, I'm pregnant! How did that happen?"


A House Like a Lotus is probably my favorite book of L'Engle's, but it's a tight race between that and A Wrinkle in Time. The first two second generation kairos books tend to be more "intrigue" L'Engle style, but Lotus is a different animal. I heartily recommend it, and if you do happen to read it, I would love to hear what you think about it. An Acceptable Time, which follows Lotus is also quite good.


I thought that the poem madeline used "A ring of endless light" in her book was by Lord Byron?


I think there's some confusion somewhere. The phrase "ring of [...] endless light" comes from a Henry Vaughan poem called "The World":

I saw Eternity the other night,

Like a great Ring of pure and endless light,

All calm, as it was bright;

And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years

Driv'n by the spheres

Like a vast shadow mov'd, In which the world

And all her train were hurl'd[...]

But the poem I quoted in this entry that uses the phrase "a great ring of pure & endless light" is, as far as I know, by L'Engle; in the world of the novel, it was written by Vicky.

I don't know of any connection between the phrase and Lord Byron, but there may be one that I'm unaware of.


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