A Voice Whose Sound Was Like The Sea

paradise lost
Paradise Lost by Salvador Dali

On His Blindness

by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”


Milton wrote Paradise Lost at a time when the power struggle between the Monarchy and Parliament was coming to a head and while the Monarchy still held tightly to the reins of power, Cromwell and his supporters, such as Milton, were turning the tide of public sentiment in favor of the Republic.  Was Milton’s literature as powerful a tool as armies in fomenting rebellion or is it in retrospect given more credit than it deserves and is simply the elegance of history shaped in metaphor?   The bold politics of Paradise Lost amidst its pure literary style is Milton’s genius.  Satan has rarely had such a star turn in literature as Milton provides him in Paradise Lost.  Milton’s Satan is depicted as the most beautiful and intelligent of all the angels, who proclaims; “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven….”

What role does literature play in society in 2018?  Sadly, video games and Netflix have usurped our children’s imagination.  First person shooter games and violent programing have overtaken literature as centers of entertainment, worthy of their time and ingeniuty.

What role does poetry play in shaping the discourse of our nation, of our world? I believe poetry is as vibrant a vehicle for challenging the status quo of lassitude as ever, but we lack the dominant voices in poetry that once were as popular as today’s rock stars or fashion divas.  I wonder, who will be the first rock star poet of the 21st Century and what will be their message that invigorates the public’s imagination?  What poet’s genius is already rousing us from sleepy acceptance of the crude politics of divisiveness that dominate our polarized world?   Whose words inspire you to build a bridge between the political rifts that divide your communities?  It certainly is not the loud blustery voices on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN.  So maybe its time we tune out the rabid 24/7 news cycle and take the time to read a book, read a poem, listen to music and find in them, new ideas that stretch us in unexpected ways.  For all of human history, in tension and conflict are sown the seeds of artistic expression.  If I view current conflicts as the incubator of great art, then I awaken to the reality that art is all around me to seek out and enjoy.


On The Pulse of Morning

by Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon,
The dinosaur, who left dried tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow,
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness
Have lain too long
Facedown in ignorance,
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

London, 1802

by William Wordsworth

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life’s common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

 

 

Alive By Reason

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The Descent

by William Carlos Williams

The descent beckons
   ……as the ascent beckoned
  .““`…….Memory is a kind
of accomplishment
      …a sort of renewal
…………..even
an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
  ………..inhabited by hordes
…………………… heretofore unrealized
of new kinds—
  ……..since their movements
…………………are toward new objectives
(even though formerly they were abandoned)

No defeat is made up entirely of defeat—since
the world it opens is always a place
  …….formerly
……………..unsuspected. A
world lost
   ,a world unsuspected
.…….beckons to new places
and no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory
of whiteness

With evening, love wakens
though its shadows
  ………..which are alive by reason
of the sun shining—
……grow sleepy now and drop away
  …………from desire
Love without shadows stirs now
……………beginning to awaken
………………..as night
advances

The descent
………made up of despairs
……………..and without accomplishment
realizes a new awakening:
.…………which is a reversal
of despair
………For what we cannot accomplish, what
is denied to love
…………..what we have lost in the anticipation—
………………..a descent follows
endless and indestructible

Full Of Life, Now.

walt-whitman
Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

FULL OF LIFE, NOW.

by Walt Whitman

FULL of life, now, compact, visible,
I, forty years old the Eighty-third Year of The States,
To one a century hence, or any number of centuries
hence,
To you, yet unborn, these seeking you.

When you read these, I, that was visible, am become
invisible;
Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems,
seeking me;
Fancying how happy you (are), if I could be with you,
and become your loving comrade;
Be it, as if I were with you. Be not too certain, but I
am now with you.


I admit that I deleted my first commentary on this blog post.  In rereading, it felt ponderous and overbearing.   Maybe the trick to discussing eternity is brevity?

The upshot of what I was trying to say is simply this:  All creative acts are in of themselves a type of eternal life and resurrection for their creator.   Their creativity takes its own trajectory once it comes into the world.   Whitman’s poems and particularly Song of Myself have always felt to me like his gospel, his new testament.   Full of Life, Now is Whitman’s call to worship and Song of Myself his parables and benediction.

Song of Myself is a daunting poem, hard to wade through and unpack because of its ferocity.  But there are poignant passages of respite contained within for me, where my fullness of understanding is complete and those passages of clarity bring light to the whole of it.

The ending of Song of Myself I consider to be one of the greatest achievements in American Literature, an unfettered acceptance of life and death as ever I have read.

Do I contradict myself?  Well then, I contradict myself. That’s poetry’s genius.


Song of Myself (Excerpt)

by Walt Whitman

51

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

52

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass (: Norton, 1973)

The Lost Generation

PH49_1_5_Josephine-Rotch-Bigelow-
Josephine Rotch Bigelow with whom Harry Crosby made a suicide pact.

Study For A Soul

By Harry Crosby (1898 – 1929)

the colors have begun to form
silvergray with cramoisy and gold
into an arrow carved by storm
beyond the fear of new and old
and where the arrow fits the bow
the untroubled darkness of her eyes
watches the red-gold target grow
strong is the sun that purifies

but I have sought in vain to find
the riddle of the bow and archer
there were no shadows left behind
after the heart’s departure.

 


Being from St. Paul, I have driven by the 4 story brownstone on Summit Avenue where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived as a young man many times.   Jay Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s infamous hero of the Great Gatsby, was not based on Harry Crosby’s life, but tragedy and madness borne of love was common to both characters, one fictional and the other very real.   Harry Crosby is lesser known than other members of the group of writers called the Lost Generation; Hart Crane, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Elliot and Ezra Pound, all of which were ex-patriots who lived in Paris during the roaring twenties and pushed the bounds of literature and life.

Crosby was an heir to the J. P. Morgan fortune and after his harrowing experiences in W.W. I. decided to live his life to the fullest.  From that point forward, Crosby never played by the rules of polite society,  he was a rich playboy, who courted a married woman who would divorce her alcoholic husband to wed Crosby.  Mary, who also went by Polly, would re-invent herself as Caresse, and the two of them proceeded to dedicate their lives to art and poetry.  Harry and Caresse lived a hedonistic lifestyle, complete with intellectual endeavors unique to the salons of Paris of that time, replete with parties, excessive drinking, drug use and a famed open marriage that included affairs on both sides and rumors of wild orgies in their Paris apartment, in which a large bed stood in the middle of their living room as the focus of all that went on around it.

Harry became embroiled with an erratic and passionate young woman, named Josephine Rotch who was soon to be married to Albert Bigelow.   Harry and Josephine began a torrid affair while she was visiting Paris and it would continue when Harry would return to the United States the following year.

During a visit to New York City, Harry met Josephine at a friends apartment secretly, while Hart Crane and Caresse went to the theater.  For unbeknownst reasons, their passion turned to madness, and the two of them were found dead from an apparent murder suicide, both shot in the head, apparently by Harry’s hand.   Salome, or peace, is not something that Harry Crosby was to find in his lifetime….

 


 

 

Salome

by Harry Crosby

Proud panoply of fans and frankincense,
Gold blare of trumpets, flowered robes of state,
Unnumbered symbols of magnificence,
To lead Salome through the palace gate,
Where loud the prophet of the Lord blasphemes
The red abominations of her race
And chides her for her flesh-entangled dreams
and turns his back upon her painted face.

Thus do we turn from some red-shadowed lust
That through the broken forests of the brain
Weaves silently with tentacles out-thrust,
Groping in darkness, but for one in vain,
For like a sliding sun the soul has fled
Leaving a princess and a vultured head.

Play Ball!

 

 

“There are three things you can do in a baseball game.  You can win, or you can lose, or it can rain.”

Casey Stengel.

 

Sonnet To Baseball

by Jeffrey Sward

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;
The aging umpire laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the cracks of bats, 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 baseball’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion of the glove;
There were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, your pattern sketched in love.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you did call,
As with your shadow, I with these, “Play Ball.”

 

Shakespearean Baseball Sonnet #25

By Michael Ceraolo

Let those whose teams are favored by the stars
Of public honor and proud titles boast,
Whilst the team I follow such triumph bars,
Their not having won what I honor most.
Great cities’ teams are too often favored,
And have been for a century and more
For reasons already much belabored;
But even those of us who know the score
Are hoping against hope for our team’s day,
Keeping a wary eye on our team’s fight,
Hoping to be surprised at our team’s play;
A championship would be a welcome sight.
One day happy will be the team beloved,
With a title never to be removed.

 


For those of you reading this blog who are not baseball fans, you might not realize that today is opening day;  the start of a new season, the promise of a new year.

Baseball is in my blood.  Not because I ever played the game at a level beyond 7th grade, nor was ever any good, but because its part of the flow of the year, it’s part of my relationship with my Mother, it’s part of my daily existence for 8 months of the year from March to October.  I wake up every day during the baseball season and the first thing I do is read the box score of the game for the Minnesota Twins from the night before.  Baseball is part of my daily ritual.

Baseball is one of those sports that divides the world, into those that love it and those that don’t.  For those that don’t, it’s impossible to explain, I’ve tried.  Baseball is a language, a landscape and a history.   Baseball is tragedy, comedy, hope, misery, a never-ending story, a common bond between strangers and a family drama mashed together. Baseball is a connection to a world better than the one we live in, played on a perfect patch of green grass, with the inevitability of triumph, futility, redemption, action, boredom, ineptitude, dedication, grace, athleticism, clumsiness and sloppiness all rolled into one.  Baseball has first beginnings and the ends of eras, all over the course of another season.

Baseball is different from other sports.  It’s not an event, its a timeline, its a discussion, its a year in the life of a team, a city, a player and a fan.  It’s the most blue-collar of all sports and I’m not talking about their salaries or the cost of a ticket, I’m talking about the work ethic to be good at it.  A baseball season consists of 28 to 30 preseason games, followed by 162 regular season games, followed by 3 rounds of the playoffs, best of seven.   The eventual World Series Champions will play a minimum of 202 games in one year.  It’s a lunch pail sport in which you have to show up and work hard, every day.  It’s a game in which the best and worst team in the league will each win 60 games and lose 60 games.  It’s what happens in the other 42 that separate the best from the worst.  Its a game in which the best hitters will fail .666 percent of the time and be proud of their success one in three times to the plate. It’s a sport where we become attached to the rhythm of the season and individual careers, where you connect to the 20 year veteran or the one year wonder, the career minor league player who is called up in September to have their cup of coffee in the big leagues before starting the rest of their lives doing something else.  Its a game where every year we watch a new rookie phenom launch their yet to be determined hall of fame career and the aging veteran that plays their last game and tips their hat to the crowd.  Its a game, where as I aged, I rooted for the rookie that was my age, then rooted for the oldest player in the league that was my age, and now root for the players that are my children’s ages and someday, if I am lucky, will root for players that will be my grand children’s ages.  Its a game where the retiring veterans mentor the next generation and the rookies inspire hope in the most grizzled cynic.   It’s the circle of life, playing out, year after year. If this sounds grandiose, then you don’t understand my version of baseball.

Mostly, baseball is a game that connects me to the memories of my Mother.  Through thick and thin, the inevitable issues that arise in Mother-son relationships, we could always talk about baseball.  “How about that box score” was a phrase that brought us back round to what was important more than once, not baseball, but our relationship.  It was our secret code to drop the bullshit and get on with it!

Baseball connected my Mother and I when she lived in Saudi Arabia and I called her in the middle of the night to tell her Kirby Pucket and Kent Hrbek had carried the day and won the World Series in 1987.   Baseball tied us together for the 28 years when she lived in New York and then Oakland and we would plan a trip in June to watch the last game of the year in September, either in Minnesota or Oakland, whether the teams were good or not, and were fortunate to watch our team win the division in the final series of the year in more years than we ever believed possible. We went to a game of baseball as part of her visit to Minnesota or my visit to see her every year.  Baseball is a game that regardless of the outcome of the games we went to watch together, we enjoyed each other’s company and the 9 inning conversation that ensued about our lives.   It’s a game that brought out the best in our relationship and reminded us of what fun it is to be a fan of life.

Baseball is just a game in which one person throws a ball and the other tries to hit it where no one can catch it and how ridiculously hard that simple concept is. It’s a game where skill and luck and human fallibility play an equal role in success and failure.  Sound familiar?

Play ball…..Go Twins!

P.S. My mother and I used to have Limerick contests.  She usually won, but here’s one of my few winning entries…


A Pitcher Named Sylvester

by T. A. Fry

There once was a pitcher named Sylvester
Who had trouble with his pants polyester.
When during his windup
His pants would bind up
The parts that make him a mister.

He tried wearing a larger size jock.
And not tucking his pants into his socks.
But the only solution
To stop the contusion
Was to switch from pants to a frock.

His new uniform caused quite a twitter.
The fans jeered and threw at him litter.
But he stuck out his tongue
And won the Cy-Young.
While striking out the leagues best hitters!

My Love Is Like To Ice

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Greenland Ice Cap – Photograph by Olaf Otto Becker 2008.
Fire And Ice

by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Amoretti XXX: My Love is like to ice, and I to fire

BY EDMUND SPENSER
My Love is like to ice, and I to fire:
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire,
But harder grows the more I her entreat?
Or how comes it that my exceeding heat
Is not allayed by her heart-frozen cold,
But that I burn much more in boiling sweat,
And feel my flames augmented manifold?
What more miraculous thing may be told,
That fire, which all things melts, should harden ice,
And ice, which is congeal’d with senseless cold,
Should kindle fire by wonderful device?
Such is the power of love in gentle mind,
That it can alter all the course of kind.

I have an obscure interest in first person accounts of arctic exploration from about 1880 to 1930.  This was a period when men and women still traveled and explored for the sheer adventure of being the first to go some where.  My favorite writers are Knud Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen, two college friends, who established the Thule trading station in Greenland as a way to support their real goals, which was to accomplish many firsts exploring the uncharted territory of Greenland and northern Canada and along the way record the ethnography and history of the people of the frozen North. Rasmussen and Freuchen had no interest in going to the North Pole, for it lacked the one thing that fascinated them the most – the Intuit people.

Rasmussen was a anthropologist who was collecting the stories and oral history of the Intuit.  Rasmussen and Freuchen both embraced the Intuit way of life, the people and their culture and were uniquely suited for this task.  Rasmussen was the son of Missionary and an Intuit woman, who was raised in a traditional village in Greenland, but returned to Denmark for his college education where he met Fruechen.  His tales of Greenland and its rugged spirit, inspired the two friends to set out on a life long series of adventures that stand to this day as some of the most remarkable journeys in arctic history.

Freuchen and Rasmussen
Peter Freuchen and Knud Rasmussen

The two of them accomplished what I consider to be the most incredible arctic feat of exploration ever – the unsupported Fifth Thule expedition.  The expedition set out to scientifically prove the origin of the Inuit people, and collect the evidence to help the rest of the world have a broader understanding of this remarkable culture.  In a completely self sufficient, unsupported and unresupplied expedition, 7 people on dogsled set out from Greenland to cross over the ice to Canada. After a year of careful documentation  of the people and ancient sites of Eastern northernmost Canada, several of the members of the expedition were physically unable to continue, including Freuchen, who suffered extreme frost bite on one leg, eventually resulting in its amputation below the knee. Rasmussen was undeterred and would continue with one man and one woman for 2 and half more years.  The three of them would cover 18,000 miles over the course of three years of traversing and criss-crossing all of Northern Canada, across the bearing straight into Russia, only to be denied further passage by Russian authorities, and then back to Alaska, to catch passage and sail back to Greenland. Rasmussen published his journey and scientific findings in a seven volume set and proves what Rasmussen himself accomplished, which is the Intuit people settled the entire top of the world by their ingenuity, athleticism and complete adaptation to the arctic environment.  He proved that even in the most isolated areas of the arctic there was a common language, common stories, common religion, common technologies that tied these people together into one society of origin.

Knud Rasmussen
Knud Rasmussen

Global warming has made the type of expeditions that Rasmussen and Fruechen accomplished impossible, because there is too much unstable ice and open water during the winter in areas that they crossed safely with dog sleds 100 years ago.

The arctic cold has been a natural barrier of protection for the amazing ecosystems of the far north.  An environment that was until recently, only experienced by the native people and few adventurers that had the ability to overcome the austerity of the conditions to thrive in extreme elements.  I fear that with that barrier of ice and cold diminishing, there will be a renewed fervor by governments and business interests to send expeditions to the North in coming years, not to chart its lands and waters  for the sake of pure knowledge and adventure, but to extract samples and create outposts that can facilitate the extraction and exploitation of oil, minerals and natural resources waiting beneath the ice that will be more accessible in the future to a world greedy to strip the arctic of whatever  can be exploited to make a buck.

The Northwest Passage, an elusive dream for hundreds of years, is about to become a normalized shipped lane, open to a wide variety of vessels for long periods during the summer months.   And with the sudden increase in shipping traffic to this fragile ecosystem, bring a whole new level of pressure with unknowable consequences to our planet.  I am sure that neither Peter Freuchen or Knud Rasmussen ever conceived of a reality where their beloved Greenland would be threatened by the melting of the very ice cap that makes Greenland unique.


 

Greenland

By T. A. Fry

I should like to go to Greenland
Where ice calves along blue bays.
I would like to go to Greenland
Before it’s glaciers melt away.

I am in wonder of a Greenland
Where all the green is white.
I ponder what I’ve done Dear
To protect the arctic night.

Can we conceive the sky is warming?
Imagine all that sinks beneath?
Sixty meters of rising water
Our modernity will bequeath.

Do we honestly think we’ll build
Dykes strong enough to hold?
Do we honestly think we’ve willed
A future worthy to behold?

It’ll take a thousand years
To melt every single drop.
Will future Pioneers
Have the will to make it stop?

I should like to go to Greenland.
Just not the Greenland of today.
I’d like to go to the Greenland
Where the ice was borne to stay.