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Jealous of Dead Leaves by Shaemas O'Sheel
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Jealous of Dead Leaves

by Shaemas O'Sheel

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It's hard to believe that it's been almost twenty years since I first read this little collection of poems, which takes its name from a line by Keats: "let us be Jealous of dead leaves in the bay-wreath crown." It came to me in my late adolescence, through a friend's high school photography teacher, who was then sorting through her grandfather's library, and although I had never heard of the poet, I immediately accepted it, when it was offered me. Some things haven't changed, apparently. With the exception of two pieces - They Went Forth to Battle But They Always Fell and He Whom a Dream Hath Possessed - I can't say that it made much of an impression upon my younger self, but after using an O'Sheel quotation in my recent review of Mockingjay, and subsequently getting into a discussion of the poet and his work, I decided to dig it out again. I'm glad I did!

What I discovered was that many of those poems that I read and forgot as a younger woman, had much greater resonance for me now, as I approach my middle age. The feeling of seeking but not finding, in This Is Our Doom; the experience of one's person - one's soul, really - being a battleground of warring impulses and powers, of good and evil, in The Field of Dust; the sense of the inexorable passage of time, in The Pitilessness of Desire, and in Outworn - all felt familiar to me. I can't say that I am suddenly a great devotee of O'Sheel, but I have definitely gained a greater appreciation for his work. There were still a few pieces that were mute for me - perhaps when I am older still? - and one, Women With Shawls, that I actively disliked for its casual misogyny - no, Shaemas O'Sheel, women, even the older, less attractive ones, are not simply "brown clods...A womb and two breasts." Perhaps the flaw lies in your perception of them, rather than in their being? - but overall, I enjoyed Jealous of Dead Leaves.

One note to potential readers: this collection was published in 1928, and contains selections, many of them reworked, from O'Sheel's previous two efforts, The Blossomy Bough (1912) and The Light Feet Of Goats (1915). The author states, in his brief preface, that he no longer stands behind his earlier work, which he describes as a youthful outpouring. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Apr 16, 2013 |
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