Madeleine L’Engle, Age 15

“One day while I was happily pretending to myself that I was Madame Curie, I blew up the lab,” recalled Madeleine L’Engle in her 1983 Library of Congress address. These days, L’Engle is known and loved for her vibrant imagination. Her high school chemistry teacher probably wasn’t so smitten. In First Words, a collection of early writings from twenty-two famous authors, we can see that L’Engle’s trademark intelligence and imagination were already at work in  her earliest writings. Pick up a copy of your own to see four more poems that she wrote in her early teens.





Six Good People

They had never seen each other, or even heard of each other, yet they were from the same city, and were destined to enter heaven on the same day and hour. Now they were standing together, waiting for the pearly gates to open unto them. Mrs. Lancaster was a fine old lady with white hair carefully dressed and beautiful clothes. Her eyes were bright and piercing, her nose aristocratic. Her mouth was stern and humorous and imperious.

Michael Carstairs had been on the earth only six years. His tan hair was ruffled all over his head, and his large wistful eyes were gazing wonderingly around him. Occasionally he would glance down at his thin legs encased in a heavy brace, and a great hope would spring into his face.

Mrs. Amanda Griggs waited shyly, twisting her gnarled hands through her black and white checked apron, or pushing back a wisp of iron-gray hair. Her wrinkled face was full of confident expectancy, and her old eyes shone with childlike faith.

Young David Mallinson stood dreamily, occasionally running his long slender hands with the spatulate fingertips through his wild brown hair, or playing a fragment of a great composition as though he sensed shining ivory keys under them.

Grenfell Dredge sketched rapidly on a small pad with quiet precision, moving his fingers over his neat mustache, his scholar’s mind succeeding in absolute concentration.

Little Nan held an old rag doll in her arm and sang to it softly, thinking with all her energetic young brain. She watched the others, and after a while went and stood next to Michael, but said nothing.

And so these six good people were admitted together into heaven. The great pearly gates drew apart in a burst of joyful music, and they stepped in, the proud Mrs. Lancaster leading.

She found herself in a great ball room hung with magnificent crystal chandeliers. The music was coming from an orchestra at the far end. She stopped in front of a mirror, and saw herself young again, arrayed in the gorgeous silks and satins of her youth, her young head poised proudly, her dainty feet tapping the floor in time with the music. In a moment she was waltzing away on the arms of a young gallant. After a time there was a stir of excitement. Murmurs of “the great LaFayette!” went around. And suddenly she saw him standing before her, asking her to dance. It was the greatest honor any young girl could have. Her eyes shone and she graciously gave him her arm. “Oh, heaven!” she murmured to herself.

Closely following Mrs. Lancaster through the gates was the young Michael Carstairs. As he entered another boy came up to him, grinned pleasantly and said “Hullo! You’re the new one, aren’t you? We’ve been expectin’ you. You’re just in time for the race. Come on. You’re going to run, of course, aren’t you? We all do.” Michael looked down at his leg. It was sturdy and strong. Eagerly he followed the other boy, and in a few moments he was running down a long level course, easily keeping up with the rest. In a while he found only two boys ahead of him, the freckled lad who had met him, and a long thin one with red hair. He breathed hard and drew level with the thin boy– then the freckled one– then he was in the lead– and he had broken the tape. Great cheers were shouted, and the freckled one and several others bore him off on their shoulders. He sat upright, looking as though it didn’t matter. “This is heaven,” he thought.

Amanda Griggs edged humbly in, and suddenly found herself in a great city with golden streets and voices singing in beauty. She looked at herself, and she was clad in a long white robe, and great wings were folded behind her. She raised her hand, no longer gnarled, and felt tentatively above her head. Yes, there was the halo. A great joy ran through her, and though she had never seen a harp before, she sat down before one and with the air of one greatly practiced drew her fingers across the string, and sweet music came forth. “Heaven at last!” she sighed.

David Mallinson followed the quavering Mrs. Griggs. As he stepped through the gates a great clapping arose, and he found himself in a great auditorium facing a vast audience, and bowing, once, twice, thrice. Then, slowly he raised his baton and the music came softly from the orchestra, rising, rising, into magnificent beauty. The audience sat spellbound; no one moved. David was inspired with tremendous genius, and the music was so wonderful that it filled him with awe. “It is heavenly,” he thought.

Grenfell Drudge put his pad into his pocket, followed the others and stepped through the gates into a great observatory. A magnificent telescope occupied most of the space, and as he walked over to it he thrilled with indescribable awe– for this was the telescope that he had always dreamed of, the one that would show him far more than man had yet been allowed to see. As he put his eye to it he murmured “Ah heaven. Perfect knowledge!”

Nan entered last, into a most beautiful garden full of thousands of flowers, or were they flowers? Why no, of course not, they were fairies. A beautiful one fluttered up to her and in a voice that sounded like the tones one would imagine blue Canterbury bells would make swinging in the breeze told Nan that the fairy queen desired her presence. Nan eagerly followed her to a flower of perfect whiteness on a long slender green stalk. The fairy queen sat regally in its cup, dressed in a gown of rose petals. “Oh, beautiful heaven!” whispered Nan.

And so, these six good people together entered the gates of heaven.

One Comment On This Post:

December 2, 2011
4:03 pm
This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words says...

[…] own illustrations for her latest book, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, as well as Madeleine L’Engle’s first story, written when she was 15 and included in the collection, First Words: Earliest Writing from […]

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