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R.I.P. Madeleine L’Engle

I start­ed this post on Sep­tem­ber 7, the day after the grand lady moved on to find out what’s next. I find myself cer­tain that she was­n’t afraid, that she looked for­ward to a reunion with her hus­band Hugh and oth­ers who had gone before. And yet I, who nev­er even met her in per­son, was too upset to fin­ish the post or even look at it again for two months.

Madeleine L’Engle
Madeleine L’Engle at home in New York in 2001

Madeleine L’Engle, who in writ­ing more than 60 books, includ­ing child­hood fables, reli­gious med­i­ta­tions and sci­ence fic­tion, weaved emo­tion­al tapes­tries tran­scend­ing genre and gen­er­a­tion, died Thurs­day in Con­necti­cut.

“Why does any­body tell a sto­ry?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have some­thing to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the uni­verse has mean­ing, that our lit­tle human lives are not irrel­e­vant, that what we choose or say or do mat­ters, mat­ters cos­mi­cal­ly.”

This is the first time I’ve ever cried about the death of a celebri­ty, some­one I nev­er even met. Los­ing Mrs. L’En­gle, who first became part of my life about 30 years ago, does­n’t feel like the loss of a stranger.

Madeleine L’Engle and Hugh Franklin
Madeleine L’Engle and Hugh Franklin short­ly after their mar­riage in 1946.

She died of nat­ur­al caus­es, and after all, she was 88. Her hus­band, Hugh Franklin, died in 1986. The depth of their con­nec­tion was no sur­prise to any­one who has ever read her poet­ry, but read­ing Two-Part Inven­tion: The Sto­ry of a Mar­riage, was an inspi­ra­tion all of its own. The idea that a cou­ple could have such rich lives, con­tin­ue their sep­a­rate pas­sions, and freely express anger and love and grief to each oth­er was earth­shak­ing. It was the first time I ever glimpsed the kind of rela­tion­ship I want­ed.

Tonight, I find that I must reach back for her own words as com­fort.

Star Light

Per­haps
     after death
the strange time­less­ness, mat­ter­less­ness,
   absolute dif­fer­ent­ness
     of eter­ni­ty
will be shot through
like a star­ry night
with islands of famil­iar and beau­ti­ful
joys.

For I should like
to spend a star
sit­ting beside Grand­pa­pa Bach
at the organ, learn­ng, at last, to play
   the C minor fugue as he, essen­tial­ly
   heard it burst into cre­ation.

and anoth­er star
   of moor and mist, and through the shad­ows
   the cold muz­zle of the dog againt my hand,
   and walk with Emi­ly. We would not need to
   talk, nor ever go back to the damp of
   Haworth par­son­age for tea.

I should like to eat a gold­en meal
   with my broth­ers Gre­go­ry and Basil,
   and my sis­ter Mac­rina. We would raise
   our voic­es and laugh and be a lit­tle drunk
   with love and joy.

I should like a the­atre star,
   and Will yelling, “No! No! that’s no
   how I wrote it! but per­haps it’s bet­ter
   that way: ‘To be or not to be:’ All
   right, then! Let it stand!”

And I should like
   anoth­er table
   —Yes, Pla­to, please come, and you, too,
   Socrates, for this is the essen­tial table
   of which all oth­er tables are only
   flick­er­ing shad­ows on the wall.
   This is the heav­en­ly ban­quet,
   (Oh, come!)
   the eter­nal con­vivi­um.

The sky blazes with stars!1

I hope you found your love­ly stars of kin­dred souls, Ms. L’en­gle! I’m sure they are as enriched by your pres­ence as you are by theirs.


1 From The The Weath­er of the Heart, Copy­right © 1978 Cross­wicks, pub­lished by Harold Shaw Pub­lish­ers

3 comments to R.I.P. Madeleine L’Engle

  • What a beau­ti­ful post! I’ve just gone and reserved Two-Part Inven­tion from the library. I sus­pect that, right now, it’ll make me cry, but that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing.

  • cyn

    I think TPI is con­sid­ered the fourth vol­ume of the Cross­wicks Chron­i­cles. They’re all fair­ly short and auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal. I don’t think there’s any need to read them in order, though. I just start­ed re-read­ing the first vol­ume, A Cir­cle of Qui­et.

  • Sarah Batt

    Madeleine L’En­gle is my absolute favorite writer, and I, too, was sad­dened by her death. Although I did not know her in per­son and I can still con­verse with her as I always have through her writ­ing, I still some­how miss her. My con­dolens­es go out to her fam­i­ly, friends, and loved ones. The world lost a great artist this year.