The Heart Be Still As Loving

Leonard Cohen Relaxes
Leonard Cohen (1934 – 2016)

So We’ll Go No More A Roving

by Lord Byron

So, we’ll go no more a roving
       ..So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
.       .And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
.      .And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
     ..And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
.    .And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
    ..By the light of the moon.

 

 


I attended The Tallest Man on Earth concert at the Palace Theater in St. Paul last night.  It was an amazing performance by a single artist on stage. Kristian Matsson is a whirl-wind of energy and musicality, his guitar playing and mastery of reverb make it sound like there must be multiple guitarists performing when only his nimble fingers are producing that incredible music.

Listening last night in raptor to one song, I wondered if Matsson would describe himself as a song-writer first, guitarist second and poet third or guitarist-first, poet second and song-writer third or you get the point, there are many combinations, what would be his list? The real question is whether any of it can be separated from the other in a linear fashion during the artistic process or does each talent inform the other in ways that alter and shape it? Do a song writer fit lyrics to a tune or does the tune inform the lyrics or does words become the tune or all of the above?

Some poems are so musical by the very selection of the words that it is inevitable they will be set to music.  There are many different versions over the years of Byron’s So We’ll Go No More A Roving that have been recorded and probably a myriad of versions that never were. It is a love song that is meant to be sung. I am rather fond of Cohen’s version. Cohen always described himself as poet first and singer/song writer second.  His love of poetry informs his lyrics and sets them apart even as his voice faded a bit as he aged, his lyrics were still lyrical, and by surrounding himself with a strong cast of musicians, Cohen’s music and concerts remained vibrant right up until his death.

Who is your favorite singer/song-writer/poet?    What’s your favorite song of theirs?


You Have No Form

by Leonard Cohen

You have no form, you move among, yet do
not move, the relics of exhausted thought
of which you are not made, but which give world to
you, you are of nothing made, nothing wrought.
There you long for one who is not me, O
queen of no subject, newer than the morning,
more antique than first seed dropped below
the wash where you are called and Adam born.
And here, not your essence, not your absence
weds the emptiness which is never me,
though these motions and these formless events
are preparation for humanity,
and I get up to love and eat and kill
not by my own, but by our married will.

Remembering Again That I Shall Die

rain

Rain, rain go away, come again another day, little Tommy wants to play, rain, rain go away!

Nursery Rhyme

Rain

by Edward Thomas

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying tonight or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.


Sunshine has been in short supply the past few weeks and there is only one day forecast in the next ten in which it will grace us with its presence in Minneapolis. It looks more like April 1 outside my window than May 2, with nary a tulip in sight. The Governor is going to need to declare a state wide “sunshine” mental health day the first day it hits 80 degrees F to counter balance the umpteen “snow” days this past winter. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were so blinded by the sun on a glorious spring day that we all had to not go into work and instead dig in our gardens and get our finger nails dirty in the sunshine?

Edward Thomas fans have also been in short supply the past week. I haven’t been inundated with recommendations from readers of his top poems. So I took it upon myself to take a deeper look and find several Thomas’ poems that at least struck my fancy.  I sincerely enjoy his 18 line poem Rain. Like nearly everything else Thomas wrote, it’s melancholy feel makes the wading through it a little thick, but it creates in me, an interesting thought of rain, washing away everything but the love of death.

It is a bit of an odd thought, to love death and to not do so in a macabre or unhealthy way, rather an idea that if we love life that someday we may have to equally embrace our death with that same passion to find release.  I am not one of these people who want to know my genetic tendencies for various ailments, so I’ll pass on the fad of genetic testing.  I can look at my parents and grandparents and get a pretty good idea of what my risk factors are; diabetes and heart disease. I find the whole mindset of believing you can somehow “cure” death insulting.  I don’t believe if I were to simply exercise more, eat a diet free of sugar and fat, save the earth by bringing cloth shopping bags to Trader Joes and eat more fiber that I change much the trajectory of my own life.  I am quite content in my knowledge that my yearly physical shows that I am aging well in some regards and in others I am progressing on a fairly predictable timeline towards what is inevitable. I refuse to cooperate with my health insurance provider who dangles a monthly discount if I prove to them I am doing what I am already doing. Its none of their damn business in my opinion and since the clinical evidence based on my blood pressure, lipids and A1C would all suggest otherwise anyways, I figure I better prepay my fair share of the costs of my eventual modern heart interventions. I feel I lead a pretty darn healthy life, but the insurance industry actuary tables have me pegged for going toes up sometime around 2043.   Lots of time left to sip coffee, eat my oatmeal and enjoy rainy May Thursday mornings like today.

 


Now That You Too…

By Eleanor Farjeon

Now that you too must shortly go the way
Which in these bloodshot years uncounted men
Have gone in vanishing armies day by day,
And in their numbers will not come again:
I must not strain the moments of our meeting
Striving each look, each accent, not to miss,
Or question of our parting and our greeting –
Is this the last of all? is this- or this?
Last sight of all it may be with these eyes,
Last touch, last hearing, since eyes, hands, and ears,
Even serving love, are our mortalities,
And cling to what they own in mortal fears:-
But oh, let end what will, I hold you fast
By immortal love, which has no first or last.

 

Unless They Love You

Beckett
Samuel Beckett (1906 – 1989)

Sonnet

by Samuel Beckett

I am not moved to love thee, my Lord God,
By the heaven thou hast promised me;
I am not moved by the sore dreaded hell
to forbear me from offending thee.

I am moved by thee, Lord; I am moved
at seeing thee nailed upon the cross and mocked;
I am moved by thy body all over wounds;
I am moved by thy dishonor and thy death.

I am moved, last, by thy love, in such a wise
that though there were no heaven I still should love thee,
and though there were no hell I still should fear thee.

I need no gift of thee to make me love thee;
for though my present hope were all despair,
as now I love thee I should love thee still


Cascando

by Samuel Beckett

1
why not merely the despaired of
occasion of
wordshed

is it not better abort than be barren
the hours after you are gone are so leaden
they will always start dragging too soon
the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
bringing up the bones the old loves
sockets filled once with eyes like yours
all always is it better too soon than never
the black want splashing their faces
saying again nine days never floated the loved
nor nine months
nor nine lives

     2
saying again
if you do not teach me I shall not learn
saying again there is a last
even of last times
last times of begging
last times of loving
of knowing not knowing pretending
a last even of last times of saying
if you do not love me I shall not be loved
if I do not love you I shall not love

the churn of stale words in the heart again
love love love thud of the old plunger
pestling the unalterable
whey of words
terrified again
of not loving
of loving and not you
of being loved and not by you
of knowing not knowing pretending
pretending
I and all the others that will love you
if they love you

     3
unless they love you

The Bond In Stillness

challah-bread
A beautiful loaf of challah served as yesterday’s communion bread.

Easter

By T. A. Fry

One cold Easter, the lilies glass-house grown,
We met as friends to share the Eucharist.
Not a one of us needing to atone
For witnessing the other’s interests.
And oh what witness it has been!  Our care
For the others, a fondness borne of less,
The brazenness that shines of goodness shared,
Then acceptance of each other’s humanness.
These friendships minister to our need,
Of want of connection across divides,
Of age, of gender and of even creed.
Each of us in turn, the other’s guide.
For what mattered most as we broke the bread.
Was the bond in stillness, not what was said.


 

My own writing serves sometimes as a painting or postcard for a memory, that allows me to viscerally reconnect with events in the past, whether good or bad.  Yesterday was one of those perfectly normal Saturdays, that needed to be preserved. It began with a quiet morning of writing outside and throwing the ball for the dog, despite it being in the 40’s and crisp. Then fellowship and communion with longtime friends, spiritually tending to each other’s gardens at noon.  And from there came a detour to my favorite book store in Minneapolis, Birch Bark Books, in honor of independent book sellers day. Birch Bark Books is owned by the incredibly gifted novelist Louise Erdrich, so of course we had to buy some books. We then went to a gallery next door where Prudence Johnson, whom I have had a crush on since around 1985, was singing covers of Buffy St. Marie tunes. Then after a quick dinner of salmon and corn on the cob, we were off to a night of viewing short films from the Banff film festival,  rounding off the day with a night cap of wild dancing at a friends annual gumbo house party until nearly 1 am, the music DJ’d by my best friend from high school. It could not have been a more satisfying day, right down to my sister being re-united with her beloved lost dog in the morning, who had been separated from her for one terrible night the evening before.

It is so easy to take for granted the pleasure of normalcy in middle age.  Those days when no one is ill, there is no crisis at work, no child, even grown children, are temporarily undone by the stresses of the world.  A day in which the companionship of your partner is complete, from waking up together, to helping each other with chores, to making meals and dining together, to playing, really playing with each other in the simplest of ways, like dancing. I realize that unfortunately the pleasure of normalcy is that it isn’t always normal, so yesterday, I treasured every second.  And then set one piece of it in a sonnet postcard, for me to look back on and remember the goodness of yesterday.

I hope if you are reading this, you have the most wonderful of normal Sundays.

Pleased Once More With Words of Mine

EDWARD-THOMAS
Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917)

In Memoriam (Easter 1915)

by Edward Thomas

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.

 

To E. T.

by Robert Frost

I slumbered with your poems on my breast
Spread open as I dropped them half-read through
Like dove wings on a figure on a tomb
To see, if in a dream they brought of you,

I might not have the chance I missed in life
Through some delay, and call you to your face
First soldier, and then poet, and then both,
Who died a soldier-poet of your race.

I meant, you meant, that nothing should remain
Unsaid between us, brother, and this remained—
And one thing more that was not then to say:
The Victory for what it lost and gained.

You went to meet the shell’s embrace of fire
On Vimy Ridge; and when you fell that day
The war seemed over more for you than me,
But now for me than you—the other way.

How over, though, for even me who knew
The foe thrust back unsafe beyond the Rhine,
If I was not to speak of it to you
And see you pleased once more with words of mine?


Edward Thomas never saw any of his poetry in print, a small volume of six poems under an alias came out shortly after his death in the Battle of Arras in 1917, having enlilsted in the infantry two years prior in 1915.  Thomas was a poorly paid hack for most of his life, putting out anything that would pay a modest wage to feed an ever growing family.  He wrote mostly criticisms and reviews of other writers work for most of his career, until a year long friendship with Robert Frost unleashed his creative potential, when Frost encouraged him to start writing poetry in the final three years of his life.

I wonder reading Thomas’ poetry if he would be half as admired if he had not died in France in World War I? I don’t mean that as an insult but an honest question. I do not find Thomas’ poetry particularly compelling, in fact I find the poems written about him far more interesting. However I realize it is poor manners to admit you don’t particularly like the poetry of war heroes, being far easier to just accept that the many learned academics who have reviewed him kindly after he died as accurate in their warm regards for his contribution to 20th century literature.

Thomas was a gifted prose writer whose critiques and reviews were witty, biting and insightful. Thomas’ undeniable contribution to American Literature was the push his passionate review of Frost’s 1914 collection of poems titled North of Boston provided, it being the first volume of Frost’s poetry that was met with critical and financial success.

I realize I may need to read more of Thomas’ work to better understand his vibe as a poet.  Do you have a favorite E. T. poem?  Please share it and tell me why.


Easter Monday (In Memoriam E. T. )

by Eleanor Farjeon

In the last letter that I had from France
You thanked me for the silver Easter egg
Which I had hidden in the box of apples
You liked to munch beyond all other fruit.
You found the egg the Monday before Easter,
And said, ‘I will praise Easter Monday now –
It was such a lovely morning’. Then you spoke
Of the coming battle and said, ‘This is the eve.
Good-bye. And may I have a letter soon.’

That Easter Monday was a day for praise,
It was such a lovely morning. In our garden
We sowed our earliest seeds, and in the orchard
The apple-bud was ripe. It was the eve.
There are three letters that you will not get.

A Poem Should Not Mean, But Be

 

Archibald Macl
Archibald MacLeish (1892 – 1982)

Sonnet

by Archibald MacLeish

O too dull brain, O unperceiving nerves
That cannot sense what so torments my soul,
But like torn trees, when deep Novembers roll
Tragic with mighty winds and vaulting curves
Of sorrowful vast sound, and light that swerves
In blown and tossing eddies, branch and bole
Shudder and gesture with a grotesque dole,
A grief that misconceives the grief it serves,
O too dull brain, — with some more subtle sense
I know you here within the lightless room
Reaching your hand to me, and my faint eyes
See only darkness and the night’s expanse,
And horribly, within the listening gloom,
My voice comes back, still eager with surprise.


 

Ars Poetica

by Archibald MacLeish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,
Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.
                         *
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
                         *
A poem should be equal to:
Not true.
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.
For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—
A poem should not mean
But be.

When The World is Mud-luscious

muddy dog
April is a Muddy Dog

(in-Just)

by e. e. cummings

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it’s
spring
and
         the
                  goat-footed
balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee

 


We had our first real taste of spring this weekend.  Minneapolis hit a high of 80 degrees on Saturday and everyone and everything stuck their head outside and smelled the warm air.  After a long cold winter, the gift of spring is an awareness of change; with the change in light one of the most compelling.  Spring light has a different intensity than just a few weeks ago, it has a different slant, a different tint, a different warmth. It is a gift to northerners who appreciate the sun maybe just a little bit more on these final days of April than our southern counterparts who are already cursing the 100 degree afternoons in Florida. No such cursing in Minneapolis, only gratitude that in the following week the swelling buds on trees will turn green and the only grumbles will be from the person who has to clean up the muddy footprints of children and dogs, who trail their playfulness from the muddy front and back yards of their houses into the kitchen to see what is for dinner, all of them wagging their tails.


Sonnet 98

William Shakespeare

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.