Wood Stoves + Tennyson

January 31, 2011

I thought this post was going to be about beloved out of state friends who don’t know exactly where I live now and whose forgetfulness or unawareness actually invokes a kind of delightul reminder that where I reside is, as Robert Bolt once wrote ‘just a place, like any other place.’  It starts that way, but takes an unexpected turn, in keeping with picnic-in-the-snow sensibilities.

One such friend who lives in a house deep in the Wisconsin woods recently sent me an email mentioning the considerable efforts to keep warm tending my wood-burning stove.  He is pushing 90 and did not remember it has been a decade since I was caretaker at a lodge with a wood stove as the only source of hot air–not counting the frequent philosophical discussions many a late night with the other caretaker.

It was not until living with a wood stove as the sole heat source that I understood the reasons for what is now considered rather arcane divisions of labor.

Prior to this living experience, I would have described myself as consummately egalitarian regarding men and woman and their respective roles.  Then came my first winter in a drafty circa 1910 lodge.

My colleague and I would arrive back to the lodge from our winter day jobs only to enter into the still, frozen indoor air that somehow seemed colder than the outside. At first, he and I took turns making the multiple trips to the woodshed required to have an adequate supply for the evening and into the night. Whomever was not schlepping wood made dinner, and it seemed a fair exchange.

In a short period of time, it was evident that he was capable of bringing in twice the amount of wood I could in half the amount of time. We never so much as sat down to discuss it; we gracefully switched places, and he became the designated wood-getter, and I the dinner-starter.  It was sheer logic, efficiency.

This  and the fact of no television on the premises eventually led to another of our famous mind and soul -spelunking coversations about what made the differences between men and women so unspeakably blissful and difficult at the same time. Both in dating relationships at the time, one new and one serious, he remembered a poem by Tennyson that shed better light on the matter than either of us had perhaps ever encountered.  Following are some favorite excerpts from ‘The Woman’s Cause is Man’s.’ Enjoy–that is, if you do not find it as antiquated as men who prefer to haul wood or women who prefer to make dinner…

‘Blame not thyself too much,’ I said, ‘nor blame
Too much the sons of men and barbarous laws;
These were the rough ways of the world till now.
Henceforth thou hast a helper, me, that know
The woman’s cause is man’s: they rise or sink
Together, dwarfed or godlike, bond or free:
For she that out of Lethe scales with man
The shining steps of Nature, shares with man
His nights, his days, moves with him to one goal,
Stays all the fair young planet in her hands–
If she be small, slight-natured, miserable,
How shall men grow? but work no more alone!
Our place is much: as far as in us lies
We two will serve them both in aiding her–
Will clear away the parasitic forms
That seem to keep her up but drag her down–
Will leave her space to burgeon out of all
Within her–let her make herself her own
To give or keep, to live and learn and be
All that not harms distinctive womanhood.
For woman is not undevelopt man,
But diverse: could we make her as the man,
Sweet Love were slain: his dearest bond is this,
Not like to like, but like in difference.
Yet in the long years liker must they grow;
The man be more of woman, she of man;
He gain in sweetness and in moral height,
Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world;
She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care,
Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind;
Till at the last she set herself to man,
Like perfect music unto noble words;
And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time,
Sit side by side, full-summed in all their powers,
Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-be,
Self-reverent each and reverencing each,
Distinct in individualities,
But like each other even as those who love.
Then comes the statelier Eden back to men:
Then reign the world’s great bridals, chaste and calm:
Then springs the crowning race of humankind.
May these things be!’
Sighing she spoke ‘I fear
They will not.’
‘Dear, but let us type them now
In our own lives, and this proud watchword rest
Of equal; seeing either sex alone
Is half itself, and in true marriage lies
Nor equal, nor unequal: each fulfils
Defect in each, and always thought in thought,
Purpose in purpose, will in will, they grow,
The single pure and perfect animal,
The two-celled heart beating, with one full stroke,
Life.’