God Forbid I Look Behind

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The Only Ghost I Ever Saw

by Emily Dickinson

The only ghost I ever saw
Was dressed in mechlin, –so;
He wore no sandal on his foot,
And stepped like flakes of snow.
His gait was soundless, like the bird,
But rapid, like the roe;
His fashions quaint, mosaic,
Or, haply, mistletoe.

Hi conversation seldom,
His laughter like the breeze
That dies away in dimples
Among the pensive trees.
Our interview was transient, —
Of me, himself was shy;
And God forbid I look behind
Since that appalling day!

 


I attended a performance of Amal and the Night Visitors this weekend with James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis.   A simple tale, an operetta set to motion as a ballet, that reminds us that our lives change for the better when we open the door to the stranger and welcome them inside.  I agree with Delmore Schwartz.  Let Angels be the judge of dogs and children.  Some people believe babies are born with all the knowledge of the world, childhood is unlearning what they already know. Dogs are born with similar knowledge.  They are born trusting.  And in companionship they learn to magnify that trust or it diminishes, depending on the person in their charge.  To howl and dance out our souls sounds like a good plan for dogs, children and adults.

 


Dogs Are Shakespearean, Children are Strangers

by Delmore Schwartz

Dogs are Shakespearean, children are strangers.
Let Freud and Wordsworth discuss the child,
Angels and Platonists shall judge the dog,
The running dog, who paused, distending nostrils,
Then barked and wailed; the boy who pinched his sister,
The little girl who sang the song from Twelfth Night,
As if she understood the wind and rain,
The dog who moaned, hearing the violins in concert.
—O I am sad when I see dogs or children!
For they are strangers, they are Shakespearean.

Tell us, Freud, can it be that lovely children
Have merely ugly dreams of natural functions?
And you, too, Wordsworth, are children truly
Clouded with glory, learned in dark Nature?
The dog in humble inquiry along the ground,
The child who credits dreams and fears the dark,
Know more and less than you: they know full well
Nor dream nor childhood answer questions well:
You too are strangers, children are Shakespearean.

Regard the child, regard the animal,
Welcome strangers, but study daily things,
Knowing that heaven and hell surround us,
But this, this which we say before we’re sorry,
This which we live behind our unseen faces,
Is neither dream, nor childhood, neither
Myth, nor landscape, final, nor finished,
For we are incomplete and know no future,
And we are howling or dancing out our souls
In beating syllables before the curtain:
We are Shakespearean, we are strangers.

Something Greater From The Difference

 

Package

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

Winston Churchill

When Giving Is All We Have

By Albert Rios (1952 –

                                              One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.


 

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.

I Am

 

Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom (1930 – 2019)

“We read deeply for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough; that we need to know ourselves better; Yet the strongest, most authentic motive for deep reading….is the search for a difficult pleasure.”

Harold Bloom

I Am

by John Clare

I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky


Harold Bloom, a fellow lover of sonnets, passed away this week.  Bloom was a literary critic of legendary status, who loved words.  Bloom was first and foremost a devotee of reading, though he did suffer from a bit of snobbery on the subject. Someone who enjoyed reading as much as he did, should have promoted reading for reading’s sake regardless of whether he agreed with another’s readers tastes, but Bloom felt all of us needed to be exposed to the genius lying in wait for us between the covers of the great books of literature. Bloom espoused the idea many times that reading was a way to explore what makes us human in ways that go beyond our solitary thoughts, by learning about some of the greatest minds of all time through their art, their ideas.

“It is hard to go on living without some hope of encountering the extraordinary.”

Harold Bloom

Bloom compiled many lists over the years of the essential canon of English literature.  You can find several variations on that theme on the internet with a casual search. However, the best list of his on poetry that I have found is shared on the Floating Library.  I have included a link below.  Check it out.   Of course the two poems today come from his list.  Rest in peace Harold.  I promise to do my part and keep up the good work of reading and making our way slowly through your list of gems, and even add to your list along the way a ripping good limerick or two you might have missed.

Harold Bloom’s Recommended Poems


We Grow Accustomed To The Dark

by Emily Dickinson

We grow accustomed to the Dark –
When light is put away –
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye –

A Moment – We uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – fit our Vision to the Dark –
And meet the Road – erect –

And so of larger – Darknesses –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –

The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –

Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight –
And Life steps almost straight.

And Yet We Guessed It Not

gardening-shoes

At Length

by Emily Dickinson

Her final summer was it
And yet we guessed it not,
If tenderer industriousness
Pervaded her, we thought

A further force of life
Developed from within,
When Death lit all the shortness up,
and made the hurry plain.

We wondered at our blindness,
When nothing was to see
But her Carrara guide-post
At our stupidity.

When duller than our dullness,
The busy darling lay,
So busy was she finishing,
So leisurely, were we!


 

That It Will Never Come Again

halloween 1966

Masks off
Halloween 1966

That It Will Never Come Again

by Emily Dickinson

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
Precisely opposite.


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.

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Darla Baumgarten (1960 – 2019)


Grief Dies

by Henry Timrod

Grief dies like joy; the tears upon my cheek
Will disappear like dew. Dear God! I know
Thy kindly Providence hath made it so,
And thank thee for the law. I am too weak
To make a friend of Sorrow, or to wear,
With that dark angel ever by my side
(Though to thy heaven there be no better guide),
A front of manly calm. Yet, for I hear
How woe hath cleansed, how grief can deify,
So weak a thing it seems that grief should die,
And love and friendship with it, I could pray,
That if it might not gloom upon my brow,
Nor weigh upon my arm as it doth now,
No grief of mine should ever pass away.

Wonder Upon Wonder

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“I will try and honor Christmas in my heart, and try and keep it all the year.”

Charles Dickens

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.

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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?

1).  Aging by Randall Jarrell

2).  Professor’s Song by John Berryman

3).  Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant by Emily Dickinson

4). Corruption by Srikanth Reddy

5).  Stung by Heid E. Erdrich 

If Thou Catch Thy Hope

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“If you want to fly,

Give up everything that weighs you down….”

Anonymous meme

Hope Is The Thing With Feathers

By Emily Dickinson

“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.


Sonnet 143

by William Shakespeare
Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch
One of her feathered creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe and makes all swift dispatch
In púrsuit of the thing she would have stay;
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
Not prizing her poor infant’s discontent:
So run’st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I, thy babe, chase thee afar behind.
But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me,
And play the mother’s part, kiss me, be kind.
  So will I pray that thou mayst have thy Will,
  If thou turn back and my loud crying still.