It came to him that he could nearly count
How many Octobers he had left to him
In increments of ten or, say, eleven
Thus: sixty-three, seventy-four, eighty-five.
He couldn’t see himself at ninety-six—
Humanity’s advances notwithstanding
In health-care, self-help, or new-age regimens—
What with his habits and family history,
The end he thought is nearer than you think.
The future, thus confined to its contingencies,
The present moment opens like a gift:
The balding month, the grey week, the blue morning,
The hour’s routine, the minute’s passing glance—
All seem like godsends now. And what to make of this?
At the end the word that comes to him is Thanks.
by James Arlington Wright (1927 – 1980)
All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Milton wrote Paradise Lost at a time when the power struggle between the Monarchy and Parliament was coming to a head and while the Monarchy still held tightly to the reins of power, Cromwell and his supporters, such as Milton, were turning the tide of public sentiment in favor of the Republic. Was Milton’s literature as powerful a tool as armies in fomenting rebellion or is it in retrospect given more credit than it deserves and is simply the elegance of history shaped in metaphor? The bold politics of Paradise Lost amidst its pure literary style is Milton’s genius. Satan has rarely had such a star turn in literature as Milton provides him in Paradise Lost. Milton’s Satan is depicted as the most beautiful and intelligent of all the angels, who proclaims; “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven….”
What role does literature play in society in 2018? Sadly, video games and Netflix have usurped our children’s imagination. First person shooter games and violent programing have overtaken literature as centers of entertainment, worthy of their time and ingeniuty.
What role does poetry play in shaping the discourse of our nation, of our world? I believe poetry is as vibrant a vehicle for challenging the status quo of lassitude as ever, but we lack the dominant voices in poetry that once were as popular as today’s rock stars or fashion divas. I wonder, who will be the first rock star poet of the 21st Century and what will be their message that invigorates the public’s imagination? What poet’s genius is already rousing us from sleepy acceptance of the crude politics of divisiveness that dominate our polarized world? Whose words inspire you to build a bridge between the political rifts that divide your communities? It certainly is not the loud blustery voices on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN. So maybe its time we tune out the rabid 24/7 news cycle and take the time to read a book, read a poem, listen to music and find in them, new ideas that stretch us in unexpected ways. For all of human history, in tension and conflict are sown the seeds of artistic expression. If I view current conflicts as the incubator of great art, then I awaken to the reality that art is all around me to seek out and enjoy.
On The Pulse of Morning
by Maya Angelou
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow,
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Facedown in ignorance,
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The descent beckons ……as the ascent beckoned .““`…….Memory is a kind
of accomplishment …a sort of renewal …………..even
an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places ………..inhabited by hordes …………………… heretofore unrealized
of new kinds— ……..since their movements …………………are toward new objectives
(even though formerly they were abandoned)
No defeat is made up entirely of defeat—since
the world it opens is always a place …….formerly ……………..unsuspected. A
world lost ,a world unsuspected
.…….beckons to new places
and no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory
With evening, love wakens …though its shadows ………..which are alive by reason
of the sun shining— ……grow sleepy now and drop away …………from desire
Love without shadows stirs now ……………beginning to awaken ………………..as night
The descent ………made up of despairs ……………..and without accomplishment
realizes a new awakening:
.…………which is a reversal
of despair ………For what we cannot accomplish, what
is denied to love …………..what we have lost in the anticipation— ………………..a descent follows
endless and indestructible
FULL of life, now, compact, visible, I, forty years old the Eighty-third Year of The States, To one a century hence, or any number of centuries hence, To you, yet unborn, these seeking you.
When you read these, I, that was visible, am become invisible; Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems, seeking me; Fancying how happy you (are), if I could be with you, and become your loving comrade; Be it, as if I were with you. Be not too certain, but I am now with you.
I admit that I deleted my first commentary on this blog post. In rereading, it felt ponderous and overbearing. Maybe the trick to discussing eternity is brevity?
The upshot of what I was trying to say is simply this: All creative acts are in of themselves a type of eternal life and resurrection for their creator. Their creativity takes its own trajectory once it comes into the world. Whitman’s poems and particularly Song of Myself have always felt to me like his gospel, his new testament. Full of Life, Now is Whitman’s call to worship and Song of Myself his parables and benediction.
Song of Myself is a daunting poem, hard to wade through and unpack because of its ferocity. But there are poignant passages of respite contained within for me, where my fullness of understanding is complete and those passages of clarity bring light to the whole of it.
The ending of Song of Myself I consider to be one of the greatest achievements in American Literature, an unfettered acceptance of life and death as ever I have read.
Do I contradict myself? Well then, I contradict myself. That’s poetry’s genius.
Song of Myself (Excerpt)
by Walt Whitman
The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?
Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass (: Norton, 1973)