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  • Susan Stoderl

Women Writers | The Poetry of Madeleine L'Engle

The quote in the image posted with this entry is from the preface of Lines Scribbled on an Envelope: and Other Poems (1969, Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The volume comprises forty-four poems, which are varied in their tone and subject. Some poems are very serious, some are questioning, some are of faith, and some are humorous. They are a reflection of Madeleine L’Engle’s day-to-day life.

Another quote that resonated with me was in an article I read about what made L’Engle the writer she was. Most writers write about their life experiences that are then further expanded to where the characters take them. Elizabeth Glass Turner had this to say in her article “The Startling Poetry of Madeleine L’Engle” featured in the August 19, 2020 edition of “Wesleyan Accent:"

“There is nothing controllable about life on this planet, her words seem to shriek; no family recipe to follow carefully that will alleviate the cosmic chaos. And after all, she was born at the tail-end of World War I, during the 1918 flu pandemic, a child during the ’29 crash, a teenager during the Depression, a young woman during World War II, a mother in the tumult of the 50’s and 60’s, a grieving widow as the Information Age picked up steam. Her experiences shout loudly to our current world.”

She was born into a tumultuous time that brought about many unanswered questions. That being said, I would like to share one of her more humorous poems in Lines Scribbled on an Envelope. "The Monkey" is about the importance of silence and how we hide and run away in pointless idle chatter. I find the last sentence the most poignant and one that draws me to tears. “You never can tell: if I listened to the silence I might discover that I am real.”

The Monkey Silence is dangerous We never permit it. Our vocabulary may not be large But there is no question that we put it to constant use. That’s what things are for: to be used. And used. And used. Who knows? If we didn’t talk and chatter from morning till night (it doesn’t matter whether or not anybody listens; that’s not the point), Words might start using us. We never allow silence. If sometimes it catches us unaware, I am the first to screech across it And shatter it into echoing fragments. You never can tell: if I listened to the silence I might discover that I am real.


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