Once More I Were A Careless Child

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The Careless Child

Sonnet: To the River Otter

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Dear native Brook! wild Streamlet of the West!
How many various-fated years have past,
What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimm’d the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! yet so deep imprest
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray,
But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that vein’d with various dyes
Gleam’d through thy bright transparence! On my way,
Visions of Childhood! oft have ye beguil’d
Lone manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs:
Ah! that once more I were a careless Child.


A canoe has a bi-polar personality depending on how many people are in it,  the cooperative nature of those paddling it and the amount of wind you are contending with and the direction from which it is blowing. It can be the most gentle cooperative vessel ever invented, or it can be the most unruly of crafts.  In short a canoe is not for amateurs in rough, cold waters and rapids and yet it can be the best of all possible boats in the hands of competent paddlers and conditions.

Most canoes are not designed to be paddled by one person, except on those mornings and evenings in which there is not even a puff of wind and the lake or stream is a mirror.   One person seated in the back of a canoe lifts the bow out of the water enough that the keel lacks some of its grip and it makes it easily influenced by even the slightest wind.

Enough about describing canoes, get out there and experience a canoe!  And if you are fortunate to tip it over, while wearing your life jacket, be sure to enjoy the adventure of getting it back to shore, the water bailed out and a lesson learned about what you don’t want to do the next time.  There is a certain zen like quality to paddling a canoe. Each person must keep their weight centered over the keel and relaxed. You have to keep your weight low, you need to slow down and be centered and present. As children at camp we were taught how to deal with a tipped canoe by tipping them on purpose in water close to shore under supervision and with life jackets on. I recommend if you have children or teenagers or adults who are first time in a canoe that you teach them those skills sometime in shallow warm summer waters, before attempting cold, fast moving water where you don’t want to tip, and if you do, everyone knows what to do.  But its tippiness is what is part of the fun of a canoe, you have to treat it with respect, know its capability, acquire skill and agility with a pinch of  bravery required.

I have been fortunate to canoe upon and alongside river otters several times in my life.  A huge thrill and a connection with the wilderness that takes your breath away.  Coleridge’s poem brings back pleasant memories.  Since in the last blog entry I mentioned my fondness for the short film Paddle To The Sea, I thought I would share a link and make it easy to find if you remember it as well from 3rd grade.

The poem The Canoe Speaks by Stevenson below is one of those examples of  rhyming poetry where the poet intentionally drops the rhyme for stunning emphasis and clarity at the end.  Some of my best sonnets that I have written drop the rhyme in a spot because the exact word I want doesn’t fit the rhyming scheme and because it improved the flow and meaning of the poem. Remember rules are made to be broken with poetry. Dickinson is a master of going in and out of rhyme with devastating precision.  Do you have a favorite poem that leaves a lasting impression because it is unpredictably changes course, like an eddy in a river in a canoe where the next stanza or couplet is unexpectedly different?


The Canoe Speaks

by Robert Louis Stevenson

On the great streams the ships may go
About men’s business to and fro.
But I, the egg-shell pinnace, sleep
On crystal waters ankle-deep:
I, whose diminutive design,
Of sweeter cedar, pithier pine,
Is fashioned on so frail a mould,
A hand may launch, a hand withhold:
I, rather, with the leaping trout
Wind, among lilies, in and out;
I, the unnamed, inviolate,
Green, rustic rivers, navigate;
My dripping paddle scarcely shakes
The berry in the bramble-brakes;
Still forth on my green way I wend
Beside the cottage garden-end;
And by the nested angler fare,
And take the lovers unaware.
By willow wood and water-wheel
Speedily fleets my touching keel;
By all retired and shady spots
Where prosper dim forget-me-nots;
By meadows where at afternoon
The growing maidens tropp in June
To loose their girldes on the grass.
Ah! speedier than before the glass
The backward toilet goes; and swift
As swallows quiver, robe and shift,
And the rough country stockings lie
Around each young divinity
When, following the recondite brook,
Sudden upon this scene I look.
And light with unfamiliar face
On chaste Diana’s bathing-place,
Loud ring the hills about and all
The shallows are abandoned.

Good And Greatness Are Not Means, But Ends

Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“The only regret I will have in dying, is if it is not for love.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Constancy to an Ideal Object
(Excerpt – last stanza)

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

And art thou nothing? Such thou art, as when
The woodman winding westward up the glen
At wintry dawn, where o’er the sheep-track’s maze
The viewless snow-mist weaves a glist’ning haze,
Sees full before him, gliding without tread,
An image with a glory round its head;
The enamoured rustic worships its fair hues,
Nor knows he makes the shadow, he pursues!


Where does reality and magical realism intersect?   Coleridge poses an interesting question, do we know when we are chasing our own shadows?  I think we need to keep the hope of magical realism alive and well as we march into the uncertainty of how long this disruption to our lives is going to last and at what cost?   Love, Light and Calm Thoughts sounds a lot like stay calm and carry on.   It’s going to be alright, is the balm for our times and a reminder that this too shall end.


The Good, Great Man

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“How seldom, friend! a good great man inherits
Honour or wealth with all his worth and pains!
It sounds like stories from the land of spirits
If any man obtain that which he merits
Or any merit that which he obtains.”

REPLY TO THE ABOVE

For shame, dear friend, renounce this canting strain!
What would’st thou have a good great man obtain?
Place? titles? salary? a gilded chain?
Or throne of corses which his sword had slain?
Greatness and goodness are not means, but ends!
Hath he not always treasures, always friends,
The good great man? three treasures, LOVE, and LIGHT,
And CALM THOUGHTS, regular as infant’s breath:
And three firm friends, more sure than day and night,
HIMSELF, his MAKER, and the ANGEL DEATH!

 

Hope Without An Object Cannot Live

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Reppkleiv, Norway

Work Without Hope

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.

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And Drunk The Milk of Paradise

Paradise
“Landscape with Birds,” by Roelant Savery 1682.

Then all the charm
Is broken—all that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,
And each mis-shape the other. Stay awhile,
Poor youth! who scarcely dar’st lift up thine eyes—
The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon
The visions will return! And lo! he stays,
And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms
Come trembling back, unite, and now once more
The pool becomes a mirror.

Kubla Khan – Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment – Coleridge.

 

Sonnet:  To The River Otter

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

How many various-fated years have passed,
What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! Yet so deep impressed
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray,
But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that, veined with various dyes,
Gleamed through thy bright transparence! On my way,
Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled
Lone manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs:
Ah! that once more I were a careless child!


We live in paradise even if we lose sight of Xanadu now and again. I have a hard time connecting to the constant drone of bad environmental news that seems to endlessly bombard us from all sides in the media. It’s not that I avert my eyes to the very real threat that rising carbon dioxide levels and global warming poses to reshaping this planet in ways that could forever alter the stability of our society.  Nor am I insensitive to the corresponding threat to a million species at risk of extinction or the presence of plastic, pollution and exotic contaminants that degrade even in the most remote places of the world caused by the carelessness and industrialization of our lives. I am keenly aware of this insanity. I am indigent to the destruction that humans are causing our planet and aware of the brokenness of our consumptive lifestyles and unsustainable appetite of economies based on free market capitalism, a false  idea that growth is what’s “healthy” and necessary. You have to be willfully blind to think this is going to end well or is sustainable. It’s that I don’t choose to live a daily life focused on that negative reality of the cause and effect of over 7 billion people on this planet as there is no reasonable option to figure out what is a sustainable population or how to implement such a thing.  It’s beyond our human ability for collective decision making. So I instead choose to focus on other things.  I am admittedly one of the members of the band still playing on the deck of the Titanic, probably the baritone, that will keep on playing their part even as my feet sink below the surface.

I am not a believer that the world is going to come to an end, nor that homo sapiens aren’t part of the very distant future. Life on this planet is nothing if not resilient.   But as the painting above illustrates there are plenty of birds of paradise, like the dodo bird and passenger pigeon, that were plentiful not that long ago, that disappeared with little warning and without conservation because of human stupidity. So where’s the middle ground between a life of avid protectionism and environmental activism and living in peaceful, albeit transient ignorance?  It’s right here, in my favorite writing chair, listening to the rain outside and smelling the fragrance of crab apple blossoms coming in my open window, enjoying the playfulness of paradise in the hands of a talented poet, while keeping a slumbering eye on this restless and damaged but beautiful world.


Kubla Khan

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.