Column: It’s amazing what you can do if you just imagine …

  • Mary Otto. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 5/9/2020 10:10:06 PM
Modified: 5/9/2020 10:10:04 PM

Just imagine … if I read a poem out loud, only for myself, every morning, and that the poem for today was The Lake Isle of Innisfree, by William Butler Yeats. I would take a deep breath and begin —

I will arise and go now and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; …

I will hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore. …

Then, for a moment, I would picture the peacefulness of the simple life he aims for in that secluded location. As well, I would wonder about “wattles.” What an odd word. Where would Yeats find those branches he planned to use? How would he cut them? Would the cabin go up quickly?

And from there, I would go toward my own log cabin, along a shore intimately familiar for half of a lifetime. Where my young daughters might be swimming in the cold, salty water dappled with sunlight. I would rush out of the cabin door, my towel trailing, to hear the familiar thunk of its closing, as I went from the porch to the path, the stairs, the dock, the float, and then into the water to join them.

Splash. Such joy!

Just imagine ...

… if, when I saw the red-breasted robins in the wintry field on an afternoon walk, I took off my gloves, put my tongue to my right thumb with which I then marked my left palm, and I stamped the palm with my right fist. Victory, I would think! I had stamped one of the first robins of spring, reliving a custom from my Iowa childhood. Did it come with my grandparents from northern Germany? Was it a counting contest, to see who had stamped the most robins by a certain day? A form of magic, dictating that if we saw a robin, stamped it, and made a wish, the wish would come true? Was it another ritual embedded in a world where as children we also warded off disaster by not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk?

Just imagine …

… if on Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23, I again looked across my bookshelves to spend time with one of the plays I had read, written about, and taught during so many years. And that this April, I chose a comedy.

Leafing through A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I would be happily reminded of humorous confusion as I looked for a line from Bottom the weaver, who was always literal to a fault. Midway through the play, the lowly Bottom sleeps, and he dreams this is a night spent with the fairy queen.

He awakens to say, “I have had a most rare vision …” and concludes that it is unexplainable to ordinary mortals. Yet he is forever changed, elevated by enchantment.

How mysterious and unfathomable is the imagination.

Mary K. Otto lives in Norwich.

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