That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
Believing what we don’t believe
Does not exhilarate.
That if it be, it be at best
An ablative estate —
This instigates an appetite
I grew up surrounded by girl cousins and two sisters. I was younger than all of them and all were better athletes. I spent my entire childhood trying to keep up, whether it was in school and academics or back packing, climbing mountains, skiing, running, playing softball, climbing trees, swimming or tennis, I knew that women were not my equal, they were better. Having grown up thinking this group of women were invincible, its shocking that one of us is gone, a sudden, unexpected death. It doesn’t fit into the way the world works. In your mid 50’s we become accustomed to dealing with death; the death of parents, aunts and uncles, but not a first cousin so close in age. It is a clarion call of how fragile life can be and how to not waste time on trivial squabbles. Instead focus on what is important in our families, love.
Darla was the youngest of the Fritch girls and closest to me in age, sympathetic to both the fun and challenges of two older sisters. When we were young, she always kept an eye on me and made me feel special when we visited. As married adults, our families went on many ski strips together, my two kids and her two kids close in age. We shared winter vacations where we all crashed together in one cabin, cooked together, played games, went swimming and enjoyed the wonderful playful exhaustion that only comes from a day of downhill skiing.
Darla lived a good life. She raised two fine sons with a loving husband, contributed to her community, was an excellent professor and mentor to her students. She was fit and smart and took care of her body. She enjoyed her life with joy right up until the end, having just come back from a back packing trip in the Big Horns in Wyoming.
Life isn’t supposed to end when we are having this much fun. Isn’t that the hope for everyone of us? That regardless of our age, our loved ones will say, it was too soon. Darla’s death leaves an impossible void to fill, so unique is her beautiful life and warmth of personality. Her legacy is as wide as her smile. Her life and memory are a blessing to all who had the good fortune to know and love her, we shall miss you dearly.
“I will try and honor Christmas in my heart, and try and keep it all the year.”
Before The Ice Is In The Pools
by Emily Dickinson
Before the ice is in the pools—
Before the skaters go,
Or any check at nightfall
Is tarnished by the snow—
Before the fields have finished,
Before the Christmas tree,
Wonder upon wonder
Will arrive to me!
A few years ago, I took the same concept as Tom’s Best of CD and applied it to poetry. I keep a crude poetry log every year. It is a google Docs that I add poems as I come across that I like throughout the year. I print it out in early December and read through it, marking my absolute favorites. I then create a little hand bound book of poetry, making covers for it and give it away at Christmas to family and friends.
The first year I made the book it took a little figuring out. I make it the size of a 1/2 sheet of paper folded over, and I had to come up with a template on where to place each poem so that it worked out. This is the fifth edition of Tom’s Best of… Poetry and I have it down to a science, being able to use the prior year’s as a template. It consists of 10 sheets of paper – which when folded provides 40 pages. I include a title page and table of contents which takes up two pages so that I am left with 37 pages as canvas with which to work. I have found over time that long poems don’t lend itself to this format, so a poem has to fit on no more than two pages to make the cut and be included. I typically include two to four poems of my own.
Several of my favorite poems from 2018 that I have included in my poetry book are listed below. I have provided a link if you would like to read them. What was your favorite poem that you came across in 2018? Do you keep a poem diary? Have you ever made your own hand bound book?
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
I am fascinated by the culture of memes that exists on social media. I know people for whom memes are an important way that they create a positive mindset each morning. They search out a meme shared by one of their group of friends on Facebook as a way to optimistically start their day. Or find one and proudly post it as a way to inspire themselves and their 586 Facebook friends.
In my opinion, meme’s only have the illusion of being profound. Under the veneer of wisdom is something a little vacuous. Does it make me a bad person that I am a thumbsdowner of memes? I worry that we have lost something when wisdom has to come in a form, so bite size and trivial, that it is completely removed from the context from which it arose. Oh well, to all the lovers of memes, Meme Out and leave us poor curmudgeons off your DL.
I am, however, not a cynic when it comes to Hope. Hope is the fuel that drives most of us to work on Monday mornings. Hope is the glue that holds relationships together. Hope is the future that may never arrive but looks good in the distance. Hope is embedded in love that parents have for their children.
I like the contrast between these two poems. Hope is a feathered thing for Emily and for William the feathered thing is the child we chase after. I think they both got it right.
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
For a poet that has a historical reputation of being a celibate, god fearing, old maid, Emily Dickinson brings a sensuality to her writing that few can match. I hope E. D. had a secret lover, a passion which hid neatly in her small town, beneath everyone’s nose, for it sure seems like she understood all matters and qualities of paradise.
Anna Gorenko, known under her pen name Anna Ahkmatova, was a poet whose sensuality is vital in her poetry, as is her suffering. Akhmatova’s first husband, Nikolai Gumilev, was arrested and shot during the Stalinist repression of intellectuals in St. Petersburg. Her only son, fathered by Gumilev, was also arrested and died in prison, despite continuous desperate pleas on his behalf by Ahkmatova. Her common law husband, art scholar and life long friend, Nikoli Punin, was arrested repeatedly and eventually died in a Gulag in 1953.
Akhmatova’s poems were suppressed during her lifetime, to the point that it was a dangerous act of sedition to even read them. Her poetry was distributed in an underground network of artists and friends. Although a surprising amount of her poetry survived, much of her writing was lost. Akhmatova’s close friend, Lydia Chukovskaya described how a small trusted circle would memorize each other’s works and circulate them only by reciting them from memory to each other. Akhmatova would write a poem on a scrap of paper to be read aloud and then destroy the original by burning the paper. “It was like a ritual,” Chukovskaya wrote. “Hands, matches, an ashtray. A ritual beautiful and bitter.”
During World War II, Akhmatova witnessed the 900-day Siege of St. Petersburg. In 1940, Akhmatova started Poem without a Hero, finishing a first draft that year, but continued to work on it for the next two decades, dedicating it to “my friends and fellow citizens who perished.” With a direct order from Stalin, because of her importance in literature, she was evacuated in spring of 1942. Despite that official recognition, authorities continued to monitor and suppress her writing up until her death. A full text of Requiem was not published in Russia until 1988.
Ahkmatova lived an unconventional life. She remained true to her beliefs, loyal to her friends, loved courageously and found a way to survive and create great art despite the tragic circumstances of the world in which she lived.
by Anna Ahkmatova
Translated by Yevgeny Bonver.
It wasn’t at all that quite mysterious painter,
which has well-pictured Hoffman’s misty dreams, –
From that unknown and far spring, it seems,
I can observe a plantain in its flatter.
And it was greening – our town, plain,
Trimming its steps, like some wings, wide and soaring,
And with a torch of chorals freely rolling,
Psyche was going into my domain.
And near the tree, in deep of the fourth yard,
Were dancing children in their full delight
To the one-legged hand-organ’s strident giggle,
And life was knellling with all bells anew,
And crazy blood was leading me to you
Along the path, so commonplace and single.
My life closed twice before its close— It yet remains to see If Immortality unveil A third event to me
So huge, so hopeless to conceive As these that twice befell. Parting is all we know of heaven, And all we need of hell.
At Melville’s Tomb
by Hart Crane
Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.
And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.
Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.
Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides … High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.
Hart Crane committed suicide by jumping off a boat sailing from Mexico City to New York City, his depression finally overwhelming during a prolonged period of writer’s block. Marsden had been with him in Mexico City and grieved his loss by painting an image filled with symbolism of Crane’s life and poetry.
Hart Crane was not related to Stephen Crane. Stephen died even younger at age 28 from tuberculosis and by way of hard and happier living. I am not a big fan of Stephen Crane’s parable poems. However, I think if Hart had been able to take more of Stephen’s perspective in dealing with his demons, he might have found a way through his darkest of days and not become a “shadow that one the sea keeps.”
Do you think Hart Crane’s sonnet foreshadow’s his death or was thoughts of suicide part of his subconscious mind, shaping his words as he wrote?
A Man Went Before A Strange God
by Stephen Crane (1871 – 1900)
A man went before a strange God —
The God of many men, sadly wise.
And the deity thundered loudly,
Fat with rage, and puffing.
“Kneel, mortal, and cringe
And grovel and do homage
To My Particularly Sublime Majesty.”
The man fled.
Then the man went to another God —
The God of his inner thoughts.
And this one looked at him
With soft eyes
Lit with infinite comprehension,
And said, “My poor child!”
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
One of the pleasures of rhyming poems for the writer and reader alike is that they lend themselves to riddles. I can speak from experience that sometimes the riddles come from deep within the subconscious and aren’t always planned, rather the words feel right and only later release their hidden meanings. Emily Dickinson is a master riddler and given that she never published any of her poetry, she saved her best laughs for herself.
Hart Crane wrote his sonnet that isn’t a sonnet in 1924 when Emily Dickinson was not omnipresent in bookstores and not yet in the pantheon of poets. Some of her poems and correspondence had been published but she had yet to have the kind of impact on modernists and the general public that she has today. To read a much weightier interpretation of Hart Crane’s sonnet below, try Alan Tate’s essay on the subject, he was both a talented poet and a good friend, who took up the cause of heightening the reputation of Hart Crane after his untimely death.
At first glance To Emily Dickinson is a sonnet, but it does not fit a traditional rhyming scheme. It was written while Hart was having a torrid homosexual love affair with a sailor named Emil Oppfer. To those of us that like to see riddles, it could be argued there are several hidden clues that this poem is written both to Emily and Emil the first being the similarity of their names. Crane’s romance didn’t last as it seems that his lover lacked the intellectual curiosity and capacity to stimulate Crane’s pursuit of a poetic ideal and their affair dwindled quickly.
Some critics have interpreted the cities of Ormuz and Ophir as another clue that Crane wrote this poem as much to Emil as Emily, as Ophir and Oppfer are perfect homonyms. The city of Ormuz, also known as Hormuz, was part of one of the most important diplomatic missions of the Portuguese empire. Afonso de Alburqurque sent a trove of ruby adorned treasures to Shah Ismail in 1510 to win favor and begin a mutually beneficial partnership. Ophir is a city mentioned in the old Testament multiple times, known for its wealth, gold and wisdom, the implication that it is through wise choices that wealth is attained.
What is Crane saying in the final six lines, traditionally the volta? It makes more sense in my mind if he is writing it to Emil. Is the flower in Crane’s hand, for his lover, their affair not yet over? The inevitability of its ending plain before him, as he cannot connect to his lover’s remotest mind, and it leaves their relationship cold and penniless without his need for an intellectual bond, leaving nothing left but the crying. However, the lines also have meaning for Emily, whose work is just coming to light at that time, her flower not yet wilted, and whose solitary mission as a writer was for her benefit, no one else’s. Another poet would ask the question, if her poetry had never come to light, would we be left colder and a treasure lost?
Regardless of who Crane wrote this poem, it’s beautiful, the opening eight lines packed with meaning of what it is to be passionate about another person, about love, about art, about life! The lines are also insight into Crane’s tortured soul, his ideas about the role of poetry as a silencer of anxiety, the process of writing meant foremost to enhance the life of the writer, not for financial gain but for the writer’s spiritual or intellectual gain and through their words, leave a trace of their humanity for obscurity of eternity, all depending on the whim of a publisher and fate.
To Emily Dickinson
by Hart Crane
You who desired so much–in vain to ask–
Yet fed you hunger like an endless task,
Dared dignify the labor, bless the quest–
Achieved that stillness ultimately best,
Being, of all, least sought for: Emily, hear!
O sweet, dead Silencer, most suddenly clear
When singing that Eternity possessed
And plundered momently in every breast;
–Truly no flower yet withers in your hand.
The harvest you descried and understand
Needs more than wit to gather, love to bind.
Some reconcilement of remotest mind–
Leaves Ormus rubyless, and Ophir chill.
Else tears heap all within one clay-cold hill