Hope Is A Tattered Flag
by Carl Sandburg (1878 – 1967)
Hope is a tattered flag and a dream of time.
Hope is a heartspun word, the rainbow, the shadblow in white
The evening star inviolable over the coal mines,
The shimmer of northern lights across a bitter winter night,
The blue hills beyond the smoke of the steel works,
The birds who go on singing to their mates in peace, war, peace,
The ten-cent crocus bulb blooming in a used-car salesroom,
The horseshoe over the door, the luckpiece in the pocket,
The kiss and the comforting laugh and resolve—
Hope is an echo, hope ties itself yonder, yonder.
The spring grass showing itself where least expected,
The rolling fluff of white clouds on a changeable sky,
The broadcast of strings from Japan, bells from Moscow,
Of the voice of the prime minister of Sweden carried
Across the sea in behalf of a world family of nations
And children singing chorals of the Christ child
And Bach being broadcast from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
And tall skyscrapers practically empty of tenants
And the hands of strong men groping for handholds
And the Salvation Army singing God loves us…
Whew, its December. I survived another November’s intensity and am grateful for the preparations of the holidays. Hard to believe that Christmas is only 3 weeks away with today’s temperature over 50 degrees (October weather in Minnesota). But the cold will come soon enough and the balmy weather allows me one last weekend to attend to matters calling me before the land is covered in snow, like dragging a magnet across my driveway to pick up all the nails and screws lurking where tractor tires might find them when pushing snow.
As it often happens, taking a deeper dive into matters in which I know little, opens my eyes to connections I wasn’t aware. Spending the month with Civil War poets wasn’t my favorite topic, but I learned far more than I expected when I started. I am going to start the month of December with a counterpoint of hope and peace. Coleridge’s poem a reminder that as human’s we live in the full spectrum of experience, and we have to figure out how to take our good with our worst. Sandburg’s poem continues to amaze me with his wisdom. (A shadblow is flowering bush.) I enjoy his playfulness in word creation; luckpiece and heartspun.
These two poems separated by more than a 100 years in their creation, share ideas on the handholds that exist for us to hold on to in all the range of human experience. (And if you are looking for the sonnet’s influence on either of these poems, take note of the syllable count of each line and the rhyming schemes in Coleridge’s poem the second time you read it through….) What is a personal symbol of hope for you during this holiday season?
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834)
If dead, we cease to be ; if total gloom
Swallow up life’s brief flash for aye, we fare
As summer-gusts, of sudden birth and doom,
Whose sound and motion not alone declare,
But are their whole of being ! If the breath
Be Life itself, and not its task and tent,
If even a soul like Milton’s can know death ;
O Man ! thou vessel purposeless, unmeant,
Yet drone-hive strange of phantom purposes !
Surplus of Nature’s dread activity,
Which, as she gazed on some nigh-finished vase,
Retreating slow, with meditative pause,
She formed with restless hands unconsciously.
Blank accident ! nothing’s anomaly !
If rootless thus, thus substanceless thy state,
Go, weigh thy dreams, and be thy hopes, thy fears,
The counter-weights !–Thy laughter and thy tears
Mean but themselves, each fittest to create
And to repay the other ! Why rejoices
Thy heart with hollow joy for hollow good ?
Why cowl thy face beneath the mourner’s hood ?
Why waste thy sighs, and thy lamenting voices,
Image of Image, Ghost of Ghostly Elf,
That such a thing as thou feel’st warm or cold ?
Yet what and whence thy gain, if thou withhold
These costless shadows of thy shadowy self ?
Be sad ! be glad ! be neither ! seek, or shun !
Thou hast no reason why ! Thou canst have none ;
Thy being’s being is contradiction.