2 Easter Vignettes: Sacred and Sentimental

* Poem for Easter – British poet George Herbert loved to explore the soul’s inner architecture. He often wrote poems with shapes representing a theme, the resurrection in this case. The poetic lines, “increasing and decreasing to imitate flight,” also mimic the spiritual experience of rising and falling.

Easter WingsVertical_poem_4x5_300

Then viewed vertically the poem displays images of two butterflies, symbols of new life: Emblem poetry (technopaegnia) printed in a shape that reflects the subject of the poem.

Manuscript from the Bodleian Collection, Oxford University, 1633
Manuscript from the Bodleian Collection, Oxford University, 1633

Since by long centuries of custom the date of Easter is annually determined from the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21, the intertwining of physical and spiritual seasons is virtually inevitable.

Wisdom in Waiting: Spring’s Sacred Days by Phyllis Tickle

* Easter parade at Rheems Elementary School

My Mennonite school teacher, Miss Ruth Longenecker, was an artist. Though she dressed plainly with hair in a bun and a standard regulation prayer covering, her life brimmed with color, design, and pageantry. She painted in oils, preserving the old sycamore tree by the bridge at the old Martin home place on canvas:

Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker
Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm       Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker

In her classroom at Christmas time was a tall tree laden with brilliant bulbs and glistening tinsel at school, though Mennonites were discouraged from having worldly Christmas trees at home. For St. Patrick’s Day, my classmates and I wore Derby hats and huge green shamrocks. But Easter was a real blow-out. Students brought hats and silky flowers from home to add to the creative collection (pasted, stapled, sewed). We paraded up and down the village streets near Rheems Elementary School, our teacher preserving the frivolity on her 16 mm movie film. Even the boys wore hats, some even more flower-encrusted than the girls.

Hand-made millinery on display at Rheems Elementary School
Hand-made millinery on display at Rheems Elementary School

Thank you for commenting. You can count on me to reply.

The conversation continues . . . .

Coming Monday: Guest post on Mary Gottschalk’s blog: Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land


15 thoughts on “2 Easter Vignettes: Sacred and Sentimental

  1. Miss Longenecker? Was she a relative? Wow! You were mentored by a very understanding teacher who intuitively fed the multiple intelligences. So glad the principal, school board or parents didn’t clip her wings, or maybe she did weather a storm and successfully shielded you all from it.


  2. Miss Longenecker, referred to as Aunt Ruthie in other posts, is my Aunt and my teacher for the first 4 grades. She was the bookkeeper for our church, but expressed her artistic creativity full force at school. Yes, before Ken Gardner wrote the book on Multiple Intelligences she was practicing its principles.

    About having her wings clipped: For several years the school board perversely refused to call her principal, instead referring to her as “head teacher” at Rheems Elementary School. Such chauvinism would be absolutely unacceptable now. As an educator too, you would certainly understand that. Thank you once again for your insightful comment, Georgette!


  3. I loved the poem. I also love the Easter hats. I remember those! Hahaha! I had an aunt who wore hats every day, but her Easter hat was a bit much, complete with little chickens and eggs set into the flowers.Nobody like to sit behind her in church.


    1. I’ll bet you aunt wore gloves too. Well, not every day but probably to church. Yes,
      wide-brimmed or tall hats can be an annoyance but one seldom sees those anymore. Now it’s the nuisance of sitting behind extra tall or fluffy-haired people.

      I’m glad you like the poem, a favorite of mine during this season. Thanks for visiting today, Susan.


  4. I’m a huge fan of your Aunt Ruthie, and I love the strength and fertility implied in her painting.

    Thank you for the wonderful poem. I attempted one stanza of an “Easter Wings” poem (based on this week’s lectionary):

    Ezekiel prophesied, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.”
    Like Martha I say, “Yes Lord,” while wondering about my faith.
    Flannery O’Connor prophesied, “All things converge.”
    Jesus wept.
    Feel the wake.
    Body transitions.
    Dynamic, Uncontainable Spirit
    Compels towards growth and transformation.


  5. That’s genius, Dolores. Anyone that can combine Ezekiel, Flannery O’Connor and Jesus into one emblem stanza deserved some accolades. If I were wearing a hat, I’d take it off to you! Thank you for the poem and especially for the hopeful conclusion.


  6. Marian – I’m not only impressed with the poem, but with their shapes — both vertical and horizontal. That took some real doing!

    Yay for Aunt Ruthie and her penchant for color!


    1. George Herbert lived and wrote during Shakespeare’s time and loved to experiment with new forms. The Bodleian Library houses a manuscript that shows the “horizontal” version, which I have just posted. Thank you for your keen observation skills once again, Laurie.


  7. Marian, I loved the poem and the butterfly structure of it. Also, I’m glad your Aunt Ruthie wasn’t reined in. Her approach to education is creative, fun and she understood how to engage her students’ interests. Bravo!


    1. Judy, as a teacher yourself, you would notice Aunt Ruthie’s genius in engaging students’ interest. When I comment about all the fun things we did at school trying to refresh her memory, she laughs. I know she probably thinks her contribution was trivial but to all of her students it was huge. I’m glad you enjoyed the poetry as well. Thanks for the visit today!


  8. Your teacher was exceptional, Marian. The butterfly form is beautifu; my favorite image is of a lark, though: “…Oh let me rise as larks, harmoniously…”
    And I love that the young boys’ hats had as many flowers as the girls’ hats. Children are such creative free spirits.


    1. Oh, the rising lark: Another great line from Herbert’s The Temple collection. Thank you for this example, Marylin.

      You are the first commenter to mention boys wearing flowery hats. At the time, it didn’t seem unusual, but looking back it seems quaint and laughable, but very sweet at the same time. Yes, children are creative and free by nature, The lucky ones don’t get squelched. I’m always glad for your wise observations!


  9. Your teacher-aunt Ruth sounds like a remarkable woman who knew how to combine learning and fun in her classroom. Some people seem to know these things intuitively.
    I love that the boys in your class also enjoyed the flower hats. Of course, the outfits of sixteenth and seventeenth-century men(I’m not sure about George Herbert ) were often more flamboyant than that of women. I don’t think they wore flowers in their hats, but they did sometimes wear feathers. Thanks for the poetry lesson, too!


    1. I love that you connect grade-school Easter hats with the flamboyancy of 16th and 17th century men’s millinery. Kings Louis XIV and XVI come to mind. Not only hats, but bejeweled ermine capes too! I’m glad you enjoyed George Herbert. Another one of his I appreciate is shaped like an altar and of course entitled The Altar, a tribute to divine sacrifice. Thoughtful and observant, that’s you, Merril.


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