Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Happy in an Ordinary Thing

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Happy in an Ordinary Thing

Article excerpt

Happy in an Ordinary Thing. By John Ridland. New Odyssey series. Kirksville, Mo.: Truman State University Press, 2013. xii + 100 pp. $15.95 (paper).

As I write this, John Ridland and his wife, Muriel, are settling into their summer cabin on Huntington Lake in the Sierra Nevada. There, on the Fourth of July, they will celebrate with their lakeside neighbors our nations independence and John's own eightieth birthday-a little bit of an irony, since he was British-born in London. A little bit of irony goes a long way to describe the tone of John Ridlands latest book of poetry, Happy in an Ordinary Thing. Readers of Thomas Hardy will feel themselves on familiar, if gentler, ground as they navigate John Ridlands wistfulness in the face of ultimate things. Like Hardy, too, Ridland is a master of meter and rhyme and understands how to use the formal in the service of the colloquial.

Those who know John and Muriel Ridland-and I count myself fortunate to be one-know that their lives are marked by the loss of a disabled child. This child makes his appearance from time to time in this volume, most notably in "The Night That He Is Five Tomorrow," from which the title is taken:

A second time it comes, that stubborn dream.

He walks-not to me, not away-out through

Long, dark green grass, half-tottering, half-lame.

But happy in an ordinary thing

His waking never did, can never do.

And now I wake, into the normal sun

Which sets the dry grass mountainside aflame

Out through the window where the mule deer feed,

Not weeping, not exulting, nearly dumb

Before the snow falls, easily, like seed. (p. 37)

This poem, like so many of Ridland s, is perfectly poised between agony and consolation. We think as we read it of John Milton s sonnet "Methought I Saw My Late Espousèd Saint," in which the poet sees his dead wife in a dream, only to awaken to the dark night of his blindness. Ridland wakes to the sun and the grass and the mule deer that are soon to be obscured by snow, but a snow that softly falls like seed. He, too, in at least some muted way, is "happy in an ordinary thing."

In "Dear Absolute," Ridland confronts the deity in more dire terms in the midst of a sudden health crisis.

Meanwhile around me I could hear

Your wingèd chariot with the knives

fixed to its axles slicing lives

left right and center... . (p. 32)

Always one for fair play, however, he allows the deity to write back, advising the poet, "Cleave to your wife," and parting with a reminder that "by the way, . …

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