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Conan Doyle’s Copper Beeches

November 29, 2011

For comfort reading in a time of emotional upheaval, I believe you can’t beat Sherlock Holmes stories, because everything matches up in the end; everything is explicable.  It’s also good to go back to the original stories after reading a Laurie King novel, one of many based on Conan Doyle’s characters–what Michael Chabon calls the original fan fictions. In his essay in Maps and Legends Chabon asserts that  “all enduring popular literature has this open-ended quality, and extends this invitation to the reader to continue, on his or her own, with the adventure.”

I was re-reading The Adventure of the Copper Beeches partly because I was thinking of Stanley Plumly’s poem “Conan Doyle’s Copper Beeches”:

In the story they’re in a clump at the front
hall door, as huge as an extinction,
yet Holmes, the literalist, ignores them,
focused on the options of the case.

It’s Watson, his Boswell and naturalist,
who makes them beautiful, if only for
a moment, “shining like burnished metal
in the light of the setting sun”—Watson,

soldier, biographer of adventure.
The woman, Miss Hunter, is alone and
will be saved by deduction, then action,
and always the same conclusion—the lives

that were interrupted will go on, lives
that were broken will heal or go under,
like all the other stories an elegy
of the century, the country, the seasons.

The beeches, though hardly mentioned, suggest
the melancholy of the piece, the weather,
mood, the sense of failure in the house—
they’re like a background for the color of

the clues: bright blue dress, copper coil of hair,
the bone-white starving of the dog. They
link the past, medieval to the modern,
the leaves still dark in summer, bronze and

butter through hundreds of falls and winters.
They’re what’s left of a larger thing. Watson
knows this, accepts his friend’s insulting him
as one for whom the art is for his sake,

who loves embellishment, the odd detail,
Miss Hunter’s face flecked “like a plover’s egg,”
who’s disappointed such a beauty will
be dropped back into private life as just

another aspect of the landscape,
one on whom nothing once was lost—Watson
the memorist Watson the lover,
writing from the heart, aware that his friend

is isolated, suicidal, bored,
perfectionist, misogynist, genius
of the obvious, a man made of glass.
The beeches turning in the wind are glass.

As for the evil parents now children
of their servants, as for the prisoner daughter
now free to marry, gone to Mauritius,
as for Miss Violet Hunter, gentle, gone—

Watson understands the resolution,
how the gray cathedral ruminating
trees display their power within a human
emptiness, letting a few leaves fall.

I love the line “they’re what’s left of a larger thing.”

Do you like one of the lines of this poem?  What do you re-read for comfort?

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2011 12:21 pm

    I’m trying to picture Miss Hunter’s face flecked “like a plover’s egg.” I think I know what that looks like, but I’m sure if I saw a picture, or worse a movie of the poem, I’d be disappointed by someone else’s visualization of what I see in my mind.

    When we flooded, I would have given anything to reread the Lord of the Rings triology but we didn’t have those books and even if we had, they’d have been below the water line. So I did the next best thing and watched the movies.

    I’m sure Kent was confused by my extreme urgency–I had to watch those movies immediately, no waiting. In fact we bought two of the three because we couldn’t find them to rent in the Blockbuster downstairs in our temporary apartment building. I so desperately needed right to win, after a long, appropriately difficult struggle but to win clearly and decisively.

    • November 30, 2011 8:02 am

      The “plover’s egg” image made me pause, too. Then I decided she was freckled and went on.
      Lord of the Rings, of course, is the ultimate comfort read at our house, and we also watch the movies.
      The movies are not as comforting, though, because Ron hates the depiction of Faramir, and I hate the depiction of Denethor. The Two Towers is the best movie.

      • November 30, 2011 10:48 am

        Yes, the changes from books to movies made me cranky but at that time I just needed the triumph of good over evil. So it sufficed.

      • November 30, 2011 2:32 pm

        I hate the depiction of Faramir, too!

  2. November 29, 2011 12:52 pm

    “The Hobbit” got me through a rather painful move from Ohio to Indiana.

    • November 30, 2011 8:04 am

      Yeah…it just got Walker through the end of having mono, when he felt better and could stay awake, but still had to lie around.

  3. November 29, 2011 2:39 pm

    I re-read Georgette Heyer books. The perfect light-hearted distraction from sad or difficult things.

    • November 30, 2011 8:04 am

      Hmm. I’m definitely going to have to try another of those. I’m thinking The Grand Sophy, because Karen of Books and Chocolate recently liked that one.

  4. November 29, 2011 10:10 pm

    Huh, I never would have thought of Sherlock Holmes during emotional times, but that does make a lot of sense!

  5. November 30, 2011 8:06 am

    It’s “elementary”!

  6. December 2, 2011 1:06 pm

    I reread your blog posts for comfort.

  7. trapunto permalink
    December 2, 2011 6:19 pm

    I guess I am the only one who read the title of this post as “Conan Doyle’s Copper Breeches.” Several times.

    I like many of the lines of this poem, but I’m afraid my initial misconception colored it outside the lines a bit much.

  8. December 2, 2011 6:34 pm

    Okay, copper breeches leads me to another obscure connection, which is the sound they would make when the person walked, which must be like the sound of the British character’s testicles as he leaves his room in El Pollo del Mar in the movie LA Story.

    • trapunto permalink
      December 5, 2011 8:33 pm

      Have not seen that movie. Perhaps I need to!

      I find it easy to believe anything weird of Doyle because of his spiritualist adventures. In the back of my mind, I supposed copper breeches’ conductivity might have something to do with seances. Umm–should I stop now? Yes. I do believe so.

      • December 6, 2011 8:35 am

        stop…just as it’s getting to be such a good image?!! LA Story is a movie for those who like silliness. As I do.

        • trapunto permalink
          December 6, 2011 7:58 pm

          Well, I will save it for when I start writing Mary Russell fan fiction.

          I realized I HAVE seen L.A. story. I am bad at remembering movies. I completely forgot any testicular sound effects!

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