Remembering Sarah Seff Rolfe

“It is so easy to forget that the essential you… might be lost, and that the you might forget to remember from whom or what it came.” –Ronald Rolfe, geneticist.

These lines were written during aphasia when Ronald was dying from a brain tumor

 

It was my pleasure to have met Mrs. Rolfe at a time when my ideas were just beginning to develop.  When I was a child of six, I used to come over to her home to play piano and spoke of my conceptions of music.  She then moved away and I never thought I would see her.  However, during a troubled period in my life in my late teens, she returned to the very same house she had lived in earlier!  I met her at a march of candles for Soviet Jews and discussed some of the novels I had been reading.  I was most gratified to have found an informed literary companion.

Sarah Seff Rolfe or Rose Rolfe(her preferred name) became my poetry mentor and good friend.  She had come from Minnesota, where she had studied with Robert Penwarren.  She had a long correspondence with Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, and adapted his Hasidic Sayings in her collection, Songs of Legacy.  In North Hollywood, California, she took active part in poetry readings and took classes in Everywoman’s Village.  However, she did not publish a book of poetry(Terebinth Press) until one year before her death in 1984.  She titled her book, Heart And Mouth Are One.  The book was encouraged by her teacher, Carol Lem.

Mrs. Rolfe inspired me with a sense of the mystical and profound elements in nature.  She was a master at revealing human nature in its contemplative, reflective, troubled moods.  Her poems are quite musical.  In fact, some of her longer pieces resemble musical compositions;  starting with a melody, developing it through skillful rhythmic and word changes, transitioning into new harmonies, but still staying with the one original pattern.

I can still hear her musical voice, absorbing every nuance of every syllable.  Her voice was very similar to Barbara Luddy’s “Lady” in the Disney film Lady and the Tramp.  

She often invited fellow poets over for an evening of poetry and and analysis.  She was patient and kind with my early endeavors and always supportive and encouraging.  To remember her, I am including Blue Pawn, one of the best poems that she wrote.

 Blue Pawn

1

Very old, the dealer said, Navajo.

Small white prayer-beads near the clasp…

Touching the unpolished, turquoise stones,

I find underground springs,

Ghosts of my Hebrew ancestors

in fringed prayer-shawls

sway at my shoulders–quiver.

But something else here… evokes

the craftsman who shaped the necklace.

Crouched under canvas eaves, he plies

his art, sun-baked hands holy with care.

His axe rings.. where thick blue veins

of turquoise… tear from the matrix.

And what has the blue necklace to say

of such distant visions?

Pawned and redeemed at trading posts…

caught in a chain of sorrows and celebrations

and coming here to my alien hand,

my Native questions?

2

Beginnings…

My pulse holds tembrilsJewish theology, Native Americans

where the Hebrew God of Place and the

Indian Gods of many Weathers–touch.

Though sea and sky belie their blue,

I say what I see–say sapphire, cerulean,

lapis lazuli–circle of faiths.

Their laughter carves the iron wind

where turquoise winks in the rock

and earth’s blue bead, quarried in space,

trembles in the rite of stars… plays.

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

4 Responses to Remembering Sarah Seff Rolfe

  1. auntyuta says:

    This is another very interesting person you write about here, Robert. I can imagine the poem would sound great when someone reads it with a beautiful voice. A good speaking voice as well as music are something to lift the spirit.
    The ‘Lady and the Tramp’ Peter and I watched on our wedding day in 1956! Great memories. 🙂

  2. I played some piano compositions for Mrs. Rolfe when I was a child. Then she moved away. About ten years later, she moved back into the very same house! Grandma and Mrs. Rolfe became very close friends. Both ladies kept up with things. I’d like to think they would have enjoyed my blog… What a coincidence! Lady and the Tramp is one of my favorite films, and my ex-wife’s.

  3. Kim Hoj says:

    My name is Kim Hoj; my maiden name is Rolfe and Sarah Rose was my grandmother. What a lovely surprise to find this post. Thank you for sharing this. Grandma has been gone for 31 years but she was an angel in my life. I only wish that my dad, Bennett, was alive to read this. He would have loved it.

  4. Thank you, Kim, for sharing your comments. Mrs. Rolfe touched the lives of many and we were fortunate enough to be the recipients of her enthusiasm and love.

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