Hope Beyond The Shadow of a Dream

shrike
The Shrike from Dan Simmons brilliant imagination in Hyperion

“To be a poet, I realized, a true poet, was to become the Avatar of humanity incarnate; to accept the mantle of poet is to carry the cross of the Son of Man, to suffer the birth pangs of the Soul-Mother of Humanity.”

Dan Simmons

Carrion Comfort

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

A pandemic by its definition is something novel, something new, for which there is no resistance or immunity.  For all of history, disease was simply endemic, the novelty wears off fast.  Keats labored under ill health from tuberculosis.  Countless other poets, writers, musicians and composers died prematurely from the same.  The thing that proved most useful in reducing the impact of TB was a concept called public health.  The idea that what was best for an individual was what was best for society.  The idea that if we improved the quality of the public works in sanitation, sewage, better housing and clean drinking water for all we could stop or at least reduce the impact of cholera and TB.

There are other pandemics that happen that are more  metaphorical in their influence, but just as powerful in impacting human lives.  Truly novel new ideas in technology, art, literature, governance, religion, that travel like a virus, carried from one human to the next, until those ideas become ingrained as part of our culture.

Dan Simmons is one of those big intellects, whose writing stretches me, so nuanced are the things that capture his imagination.  Simmons has that rare talent who can write a good yarn, filled with complex ideas and not feel the need to hit you over the head, but let you find from it what you will. I have read and reread more than one of Simmons novels. The first time reading it for the excitement of the plot and then a careful rereading to try and understand the more complex connections. I have shared two poems that Simmons used as titles for novels, two of my favorites novels that he has written.

Simmons has written science fiction, horror, detective novels, historical fiction and there is only one thing that connects all of his writing in my perspective – the ability to expand his curiosity around a central idea rooted in literature and then let his creativity take it someplace new.  It is not without great thought that the titles and characters of many of his novels come directly from some of the greatest poets and writers of all time.  Tacit in his books is an understanding that ideas and literature have a power unto themselves that can move like energy across time and materialize action as real as any imaginary time machine.  Literature can bring to life a new reality in our minds.

There is not a cure for COVID-19 to be found in reading Keats or Hopkins or Donne or Shakespeare or Wordsworth.  But there is hope to be found in reading the classics, inspiration lays in wait. And in the end, hope is what’s needed during times like this.


Endymion
(Excerpt from Book 1)

By John Keats
     “Now, if this earthly love has power to make
Men’s being mortal, immortal; to shake
Ambition from their memories, and brim
Their measure of content; what merest whim,
Seems all this poor endeavour after fame,
To one, who keeps within his stedfast aim
A love immortal, an immortal too.
Look not so wilder’d; for these things are true,
And never can be born of atomies
That buzz about our slumbers, like brain-flies,
Leaving us fancy-sick. No, no, I’m sure,
My restless spirit never could endure
To brood so long upon one luxury,
Unless it did, though fearfully, espy
A hope beyond the shadow of a dream.

So Much Sweet Beauty

clive james
Clive James (1939 – 2019)

The poet is a lifer. Anyone who gets into the game will soon start wishing that there was a version of it with lower stakes, but there isn’t. “

Clive James

 

 

Japanese Maple

by Clive James

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that.That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone

© Clive James, 2014


If you were busy shoveling snow or fighting with flight or travel delays or generally caught up in the business of Thanksgiving, you may have missed that Clive James passed away on November 24.   There are lots of eloquent memorials to his life and genius.  Poke around on google and you’ll find great interviews with him.   James in his own words claimed to be nothing more than a writer and a most fortunate one at that.  He managed to make a living through his love affair with words.  As a critic he had a way of dissembling another writers work that offered you insights beyond your own understanding.   It would have been easy for me to include two of his poems, or a translation, but instead I choose to share a poem he admired.   Both poems deal with death and passing and remembrance.   Time is short on this planet, 80 years comes at your pretty quickly. May we all be as fortunate as Clive James to be able to look death in the eye and write distinctly about our human experience of mortality.


Spring and Fall

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

You Cannot Make A Show Of It

Brinded-Cow
A Pied Beauty

Sonnet As Soft Form

by Jane Huffman

You cannot make a show of it:
sadness as gazing ball (i.e., garden
globe, lawn orb.)

I had sadness by the short hairs,
loved the proverbial much-older
man, in image and idea.

The image: the tin roof, the heat.
The idea: the cat.

In other words, there’s the cowboy,
there’s the sadness of the land,

and then there’s the cow—  


The current fad of endless TV shows, Netlfix series and movies that present a vision of a dystopian future where the environment, economy and society have devolved into chaos may feel somewhat new, but that fad cycles every couple of decades.  When I was a kid, Charleston Heston took a couple of star turns in the Soylent Green and Planet of the Apes where the future looked pretty bleak. hop Soylent Green in particular made quite an impression on me, the idea of food scarcity being hidden beneath a vast government conspiracy to cover up where the latest juicy vittles to feed a starving mankind truly originated gave me the eebie-jeebies rather than a good scare.

It’s why I am very skeptical about the prospects for success for companies developing “cultured” meat and fish.   What is “cultured” meat?   Its not plant based substitutes which I think is a great idea, but are companies that are figuring out ways to reproduce beef, pork and fish cells in a cell culture to produce meat without an animal.  The pitch is going to be these are safer – no e-coli to contend with, better for the environment, no cows giving off methane gas and less pressure on limited fishing reserves in the ocean, and more humane, no actual animals being killed and processed for human consumption.  But something doesn’t feel right about it.   Its a little too close to science fiction for my taste.  Besides, without the cow, what are  cowgirls and cowboys going to do?


Pied Beauty

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –
  .  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
   .         For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
.     Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
    .            And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   ,    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
 .           With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
.                              Praise him.

 

The Song of My Marrow-Bones

SKunitz
Stanley Kunitz (

 

End with an image and don’t explain!

Stanley Kunitz

The End of Summer

By Stanley Jasspon Kunitz

An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.

I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.

Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.


This past Sunday was one of those September days that was masquerading as July.  It was hot, muggy, sunny and absolutely perfect, unless you found yourself on the top rungs of a ladder applying stain to siding on the southern and western sides of the house.   Then, it was down right HOT!   I embodied the last line of Hopkins poem below, I was my sweaty self, but worse.

The end of summer is here and fall is clearly visible in the canopy with trees starting to turn and leaves starting to drop.  Mentally if I go through the check list of all the projects I aspired to complete this summer, I would give myself a B+. The problem with house projects is the idea of getting something repaired is never as easy as the reality of actually fixing it.  It’s even more difficult when there are differing opinions on what actually needs to be done or how “easy” it would be to do it.   Ha!  But alas, I will not throw myself into damnation for my failures, like Hopkins seems want to do.  Instead I’ll give myself a pass and realize all those projects will be like a good hound, waiting for me faithfully next year.


Sonnet 45 – The Terrible Sonnets

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I WAKE and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sighs you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyest of spirit a dull dough sours.  I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

 

 

 

Moonless Darkness Stands Between

Kestrel.jpg
A Kestrel or Windhover

Moonless Darkness Stands Between

by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889)

Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day.


Today is the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice. Religious holidays Hanukkah and Christmas are purported to be based on documented historical events and just coincidence that they fall so close to the pagan celebration of the return of the light. Funny then that’s it is just another coincidence that light plays such an important part of these Jewish and Christian celebrations. Regardless of our beliefs – we all need a candle this time of year and a little faith that spring is coming.

I have spent this fall editing a chap book of poetry, mostly sonnets, written over the past 4.5 years.  It is largely finished and now I have to make several decisions about what to do with it.  Those decisions are more complicated because of the personal nature of the poetry – centering prayers for a non-believer in the form of sonnets which I have titled, The Canticle of Divine Doubt. I have shared several of the poems contained in the chapbook on earlier posts;  Simple Praise and In The Hand of Heaven. 

In Latin, Nomen es omen means roughly a name is one’s destiny.  In Aramaic Thomas means twin, so it’s possible my doubt comes to me from a name sake, doubting Thomas, a relatively minor character in the new testament and I have always felt a metaphor for the doubt of the apostles and less a real person.  A play on words of this Latin phrase is Ars omnia vincent – art conquers all.  The canticle is my attempt to put to words what cannot be explained and in that incompleteness that poetry allows, find invitations and a commitment to kindness and justice as life’s guiding principles.

The phrase art conquers all suggests that the highest art is the art of living beautifully – or feng shui.  The art of living beautifully an expression of our gratitude for our good lives.  The art of being in the moment a directive to use our talents towards kindness and love. Many artists have felt their genius, their personal illuminations and inspiration are directed by a hidden hand, which some call their muse and others call spiritual enlightenment from their God.   Today, on the darkest of days, may art penetrate the darkness and be a candle for our souls.


The Windhover

by Gerard Manley Hopkins
To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.