There was an old woman tossed up in a basket,
Nineteen times as high as the moon;
And where she was going, I couldn’t but ask it,
For in her hand she carried a broom.
“Old woman, old woman, old woman,” said I,
“O whither, O whither, O whither so high?”
“To sweep the cobwebs out of the sky.
And I’ll return, by and by.”
On New Year’s Day, I woke up with two lines from this Mother Goose poem running through my head: “Oh whither, O whither, O whither so high? To sweep the cobwebs out of the sky.” I hadn’t thought of that poem in years. Strange that my new year should begin there. Or not. I’m somewhat of a mystic, so unusual events or thoughts nudge me into wondering if they might be significant and why.
As for the old woman: I qualify for the senior discount at Kroger, so yeah, that fits. It also means I’ve experienced life tossing me around a lot – nineteen times as high as the moon? Well, considering the fact that beyond the moon is pretty much unknown, uncharted territory, I’d have to say yes. I’m tossing about in uncharted uncertainties. (Of course, that’s nothing new for any of us, it’s just that we don’t often let ourselves dwell on the iffiness of the future.)
Then there’s the broom and the cobwebs, which really seem to be the crux of the matter. Being a wordsmith, I looked up the origin of broom and found it comes from Old High German bramo, meaning brambles. Brooms were originally twigs and brambles bound together to make a tool for sweeping. Sweep, too, comes from Old High German: swiefen means to wander. So the brambles wander this way and that, chasing away the dust – or cobwebs in the poem. Which brings us to cobweb, from Middle English coppe, meaning spider and Old English wefen, to weave. But Webster’s second definition is, I think, what I’m going for: “something that entangles, obscures, or confuses.”
The nursery rhyme experts William and Ceil Baring-Gould say that this rhyme was made up by detractors of Henry V of England to ridicule his march against France, which they thought was as likely to succeed as sweeping cobwebs from deep space. (When Henry won at Agincourt, they quickly changed the words, but the original rhyme was handed down in the nursery.) However the poem began, I’ve appropriated it for 2016 as I head into high, uncharted skies to sweep away whatever entangles, obscures, or confuses. Sounds pretty lofty (ahem). And what does this have to do with carrying the calm? We rely on the sacred place of peace within ourselves to keep us from panicking and to support our sense of adventure as we journey through uncharted territory.
So grab your broom. Breathe out the old, breathe in the new. In 2016, nourish peace, cultivate loving kindness, carry the calm, and enjoy the journey.
Shadow of the Week – a candle at my desk:
Nature photo of the week – crape myrtle berries against winter’s silver sky:
Text and photos © 2015 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.