Before Some Great Unutterable Thought

Dickinson
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

As if the Sea Should Part

by Emily Dickinson

As if the Sea should part
And show a further Sea —
And that — a further — and the Three
But a presumption be —

Of Periods of Seas —
Unvisited of Shores —
Themselves the Verge of Seas to be —
Eternity — is Those —


I aspire to be dubbed an idler.   It sounds like a knighthood for sonnet writers. The Beneficent Society of Idlers strikes a nice cord, maybe with a large pennant on a red velvet cord for worthy recipients. Great unutterable thoughts that somehow are still uttered is what makes poetry a glue that connects people across time and place. Dickinson is the master of the unutterable and letting unutterances exist between the words and yet be completely understood despite each of our understandings different.

Poetry is not a user manual.   It is not meant to be literal or complete.  The best of it it is a glimpse into another’s inner life, hopes, dreams and miseries.  And if the Sea should part and understanding is lying gleaming in the sand, don’t rush in too quick to pick it up.  Let the Sea return to equilibrium and let it soak for a bit.  And then dive down again to revel in your discoveries, holding your breath with excitement.


They Dub Thee Idler

by Henry Timrod (1828 – 1867)

They dub thee idler, smiling sneeringly,
And why? because, forsooth, so many moons,
Here dwelling voiceless by the voiceful sea,
Thou hast not set thy thoughts to paltry tunes
In song or sonnet. Them these golden noons
Oppress not with their beauty; they could prate,
Even while a prophet read the solemn runes
On which is hanging some imperial fate.
How know they, these good gossips, what to thee
The ocean and its wanderers may have brought?
How know they, in their busy vacancy,
With what far aim thy spirit may be fraught?
Or that thou dost not bow thee silently
Before some great unutterable thought?

 

Less For The Gifts Than The Love You Send

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Thank You

by Henry Timrod

I thank you, kind and best belov’ed friend,
With the same thanks one murmurs to a sister,
When, for some gentle favor, he hath kissed her,
Less for the gifts than for the love you send,
Less for the flowers than what the flowers convey,
If I, indeed, divine their meaning truly,
And not unto myself ascribe, unduly,
Things which you neither meant nor wished to say,
Oh! tell me, is the hope then all misplaced?
And am I flattered by my own affection?
But in your beauteous gift, methought I traced
Something above a short-lived predilection,
And which, for that I know no dearer name,
I designate as love, without love’s flame.


It’s Christmas Eve day, always a busy one, cleaning, wrapping, cooking and hosting the family celebration.  There is an art to gift giving and an even greater art in gift receiving. It’s rare that one person has both qualities refined.  My Mother was one such person. Every year I always have one gift, I can’t wait to give and when my Mother was alive, it more often than not, was the gift to her. From the first time I can remember Christmas, the ritual of making gifts and giving them was connected to my sense of Christmas. They started out small, a craft or ornament made at church, or nursery school or cub scouts or with my Dad or with my Mom. Many times those things overlapped.   It never mattered how crude or odd the creation, my Mother genuinely treasured it.  Her delight was never faked, and she used whatever myself or my sisters had made for years to come. As I got older, and my skills expanded, I strove to make as many gifts as I could each year. During my years as a glass blower, I gave away vases. When I was making stain glass windows I gave away windows and glass ornaments. When I was knitting, I gave away hats, scarves, sweaters, mittens. As a broke students my wife and I made pickles, cookies, and hand made cook books. I have continued that tradition and now I give the gift of words, poetry.

I am a better gift giver than receiver.  I never lack for ideas on gifts. Mostly because I buy things when I see them throughout the year that I think someone would like and squirrel them away in my top dresser drawer. More than once I have gotten to Christmas and completely forgotten things I had bought many months earlier and realized I have too many items and something has to wait for a birthday instead.

The art of gift giving has several principles that I learned from my Mother.

Give the unexpected gift, even to the point of extravagance once in a while.  Give the gift that will truly inspire and delight.  Beauty lasts.  Art lasts.  Practicality can be well received, but rarely has lasting power. What appliance, tool or gadget do you still own 20 years later?  What piece of jewelry,  piece of art or memento do you own that has been passed down generations because it has been treasured, taken care of and now put into your care? What have you bought and given recently that will become an heirloom? Or even better, what heirloom have you gifted on to the next generation that was given to you one Christmas long ago?  Before my Mother died she carefully began gifting away her treasured jewelry and family items, selecting who to give them to and telling the story behind it.   Too often people pass, making the mistake of holding on to all their precious objects, only for them to become a source of squabbles after their death. Take things off your shelves, out of your jewelry box and off your walls and give them away once in a while. The things you treasure that you think enough to give to the next person, will mean more when you are alive than when you are dead.

Be playful.  No one is ever too old for toys, games and puzzles. Toys don”t have to become more expensive as we get older.  My Mother told the story of the year she was informed by her parents she was too old to get a doll for Christmas.  Her Aunt had the wisdom to defy that proclamation and delivered on Christmas day a doll that became more beloved than all the rest for its precious lesson.

Buy yourself the gift you really want.  Don’t stew that no one knows your heart’s desire. Your loved ones aren’t supposed to be mind readers. Save a little of your resources for yourself and buy it.  This year I framed a piece of art I bought in 2018, always putting off the expense of framing it. In November I took it to the frame shop and it hangs on my wall today.

Give with grace. Don’t worry about the recipients response or thankfulness. Sometimes gifts are not gifts for many years until after they are received.  I have made and given gifts that I thought had disappointed or the other person outright disliked, only to find out years or even decades later, the person not only still had it, but has enjoyed it all those years. I also know I have given gifts that were shortly discarded. Both are appropriate responses.  Its a gift.  Once the giver gives, it is the other person who gets to decide what they bring into their life and what they don’t. None of us bat .1000 in the art of gift giving.

Receive with the same delight with which you give.   Be genuine in your thanks and praise.  Any gift, no matter what it is, is a vessel for the other person’s well wishes and good thoughts for you. There is no such thing as a thoughtless gift.  The thoughtless gift is never given, because you never entered their thoughts.

I’ll finish with a John Berryman poem or prayer I came across in the forward to Henry’s Fate, a short book of his poems published posthumously. I read it at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner this year and it got the appropriate response at the end.

Merry Christmas….


 

A Morning Prayer

by John Berryman

According to Thy Will. Thank you for everything that was good in me yesterday, and forgive everything that was not. Thank you for the great rescues of my life & for the marvellous good luck that has mostly attended me.  Enlighten me as to the nature of Christ. Strengthen my gratitude & awe into confident reliance & love of Thee. Increase my humility & patience. Reconcile me to my sufferings. Make tranquil my nerves. Bring Kate & me to a fuller understanding & a deeper love.  Keep me active today, & grant me accuracy & insight in my work. Preserve me today from the desire for a drink & if it comes enable me to lay it aside unsatisfied.  Enlighten me on the problem of personal immortality.  Bless everybody in the world, especially some of them, Thou knowest whom.  Amen.

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.