Of Darkness and Of Hurtling Sound

notre Dame
Notre Dame cathedral, Paris France

The Staircase of Notre Dame, Paris

by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

As one who, groping in a narrow stair,
Hath a strong sound of bells upon his ears,
Which, being at a distance off, appears
Quite close to him because of the pent air:
So with this France. She stumbles file and square
Darkling and without space for breath: each one
Who hears the thunder says: “It shall anon
Be in among her ranks to scatter her.”
This may be; and it may be that the storm
Is spent in rain upon the unscathed seas,
Or wasteth other countries ere it die:
Till she,—having climbed always through the swarm
Of darkness and of hurtling sound,—from these
Shall step forth on the light in a still sky.


Paris In Spring

by Sara Teasdale

The city’s all a-shining
Beneath a fickle sun,
A gay young wind’s a-blowing,
The little shower is done.
But the rain-drops still are clinging
And falling one by one —
Oh it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And spring-time has begun.

I know the Bois is twinkling
In a sort of hazy sheen,
And down the Champs the gray old arch
Stands cold and still between.
But the walk is flecked with sunlight
Where the great acacias lean,
Oh it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And the leaves are growing green.

The sun’s gone in, the sparkle’s dead,
There falls a dash of rain,
But who would care when such an air
Comes blowing up the Seine?
And still Ninette sits sewing
Beside her window-pane,
When it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And spring-time’s come again.

Everything Is Its Own Sigh

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A Sliver Moon Setting at Sunset in Utah.
“Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have this wish I wish tonight.”
Anonymous Nursery Rhyme

The Meteorite

by Randall Jarrell

Star, that looked so long among the stones
And picked from them, half iron and half dirt,
One; and bent and put it to her lips
And breathed upon it till at last it burned
Uncertainly, among the stars its sisters-
Breathe on me still, star, sister.


An evening’s star light show should not be a privileged treat, the scourge of light pollution in our modern existence making something that our forebears took for granted for millenia into something that can still make me awestruck.  The Utah sky opened up the heavens last week and shone brightly in silent splendor.  We basked in the darkness, having been blessed with several moonless nights, the moon dipping below the horizon shortly after sunset allowing us full access to the dark canvas of the milky way and the night sky.

I know enough about the night sky and stars to find Orion, his belt and sword, swashbuckling brilliance in the Utah darkness and the big dipper and the north star clearly demarcating where we were in relation to an artificial axis should we feel the need to set out on foot.  I should learn a little more about astronomy, if for no other reason than to learn a new language in light on those special evenings. The stars are a visible connection to our human history. There are few things in our natural landscape that we can view that are virtually unchanged from ancestors centuries ago, if we can break free of lights narrowing our pupils to blind us to their ancestral twinkle.

One of the joys of travel to remote places is the ability to connect to earth, to water, to animals, to plants and to the sky; the clouds and sun and stars taking on personalities all their own as you enjoy their presence throughout the day and evening.  The sky in Utah has a sense of humor, it changes throughout the day, never staying for long in a single mood.

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A distant view of Sevier Lake, Utah April 2019

Two of my favorite poets, Randall Jarrell and Robert Bly, both were captivated by the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and translated extensively his work from German to English.  Jarrell’s well-rounded academic perspective bringing a generous specificity to Rilke, that makes the translations seem original and natural. I am grateful that more gifted intellects than mine, can open a door into the poetry of great minds in languages I could only superficially explore without their careful word craft. The poem below, The Evening Star, a metaphysical journey of whether the stars we see in the night sky shine from within or from without or both as we blaze energy across the emptiness of space in connection with each other.


The Evening Star

By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Randall Jarrell

One star in the dark pass of the houses,
Shines as if it were a sign
Set there to point the way to –
But more beautiful, somehow, than what it points to,
So that no one has ever gone on beyond
Except those who could not see it, and went on
To what it pointed to, and could not see that either.
The star far off separates yet how could I see it
If there were not inside me the same star ?
We wish on the star because the star itself is a wish,
An unwilling halting place, so far and no farther.
Everything is its own sigh at being what it is
And no more, an unanswered yearning
Toward what will be, or was once perhaps,
Or might be, might have been, or – – –

And so soon after the sun goes, and night comes,
The star has set.

Toil Shall Have Its Toll

 

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The view from I-70 In Utah last week.

“This country will not be a permanent good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Miracles

by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836 – 1907)

Sick of myself and all that keeps the light
Of the blue skies away from me and mine,
I climb this ledge, and by this wind-swept pine
Lingering, watch the coming of the night.
‘Tis ever a new wonder to my sight.
Men look to God for some mysterious sign,
For other stars than those that nightly shine,
or some unnatural symbol of His might:
—Would’st see a miracle as grand as those
The prophets wrought of old in Palestine?
Come watch with me the shaft of fire that glows
In yonder West; the fair, frail palaces,
The fading alps and archipelagoes,
And great cloud-continents of sunset-seas.


I have been off the grid for most of the past week. I took a trip west camping in Utah, visiting some of the most spectacular places in the western lands; Arches National Park, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Like Thomas Bailey Aldrich I had gotten sick of myself and needed a big bowl of silence to rejuvenate.  The trip was a great reminder of what an amazing country we live in and the wisdom of conservationists long ago to set aside the best of the most beautiful places as National Parks to remain accessible for everyone.

There is no direct evidence that the Outward Bound program took it’s title from Aldrich’s sonnet, but given the tenor of it’s imagery I imagine there is a connection. Aldrich wrote the poem Ungaurded Gates and rewrote it several times in different forms. Given the polarizing debate around immigration today it is interesting to see contradictions in Aldrich’s poetry on the subject over a hundred years ago. The subject of immigration has always aroused strong passions and racist tendencies but what makes America great is eventually we tend to get it righter if not actually right.  Some issues like immigration are so complicated they require a nuanced solution or a solution that is in the end the least worst, rather than the best. The version of the poem I find most compelling is the following:

Unguarded Gates

Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
Named of the four winds, North, South, East and West;
Portals that lead to an enchanted land…
Here, it is written, Toil shall have its wage
And Honor honor, and the humblest man
Stand level with the highest in the law.
Of such a land have men in dungeons dreamed
And with the vision brightening in their eyes
Gone smiling to the fagot and the sword.

O Liberty, white Goddess! is it well
To leave the gates unguarded? On thy breast
Fold Sorrow’s children, soothe the hurts of Fate,
Lift the down-trodden, but with hand of steel
Stay those who to thy sacred portals come
To waste the gifts of Freedom.

 


Outward Bound

by Thomas Bailey Aldrich

I leave behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far—
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
‘Tis but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun:
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!

Of Life’s Great Cup of Wonder

Elizabeth Barret Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861)

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!

Robert Browning

Sonnets From The Portuguese
XX

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Beloved, my Beloved, when I think
That thou wast in the world a year ago,
What time I sate alone here in the snow
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink
No moment at thy voice … but, link by link,
Went counting all my chains, as if that so
They never could fall off at any blow
Struck by thy possible hand … why, thus I drink
Of life’s great cup of wonder! Wonderful,
Never to feel thee thrill the day or night
With personal act or speech,—nor ever cull
Some prescience of thee with the blossoms white
Thou sawest growing! Atheists are as dull,
Who cannot guess God’s presence out of sight.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote one of the most famous sonnets, a poem written in secret to her husband before their elopement and marriage. Their love story an iconic example of the power of love and poetry to transform lives. It is also a powerful of example of a writer writing for herself and the enjoyment it brought to her life.

Although during her lifetime and well into the 20th Century her husband’s work overshadowed Elizabeth’s in literary circles, if you were to ask someone to quote a Robert Browning poem from memory all but the most astute literary minds would likely come up blank.  However, I would fancy a modest bet that almost everyone can complete the first line of one of Elizabeth’s Sonnet’s From The Portuguese, if they hear the title; “How Do I Love Thee.”  Elizabeth and Robert met on the basis of her courage to write and publish despite the lack of acceptance of such pursuits by her controlling father. Elizabeth wrote a poem in which she praised work of Robert’s. He returned the favor, sending her a fan letter, telling of his admiration for her work in both poetry and her unique translation of Prometheus Bound.  The two proceeded to fall in love through correspondence of a combined more than 500 letters over 2 years, in which Robert slowly helped Elizabeth overcome her reluctance to wed, stemming from her emotional devastation caused by her brother’s tragic death from drowning during a period of Elizabeth’s convalescence seaside to help alleviate the symptoms of lung disease which effected her throughout her life.  She blamed herself for her brother’s death through what she felt was her own selfish need for him to be by her side while she was away recuperating and worried what giving her heart to Robert might bring in terms of sorrows as well as joys.   Fortunately for both, love prevailed and their marriage proved successful in all facets of their partnership.

As both Elizabeth’s and Robert’s body of work grew and their stature in the literary  world became established, she steadfastly maintained her independence. Elizabeth wrote:  “I never wrote to please any of you, not even to please my own husband”.  Good advice for all writers. Write what pleases you, regardless of whether it is met with ignorance, admonishment or acclaim. Sometimes the best work is written for an audience of one.


 

Epilogue

by Robert Browning

At the midnight in the silence of the sleep-time,
When you set your fancies free,
Will they pass to where—by death, fools think, imprisoned—
Low he lies who once so loved you, whom you loved so,
—Pity me?

Oh to love so, be so loved, yet so mistaken!
What had I on earth to do
With the slothful, with the mawkish, the unmanly?
Like the aimless, helpless, hopeless, did I drivel
—Being—who?

One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.

No, at noonday in the bustle of man’s work-time
Greet the unseen with a cheer!
Bid him forward, breast and back as either should be,
“Strive and thrive!” cry “Speed,—fight on, fare ever
There as here!”

This is the Moment Replayed on Winter Days

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“Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” – Babe Ruth

Grand Slam

by Marjorie Maddox

Dreams brimming over,
childhood stretched out in legs,
this is the moment replayed on winter days
when frost covers the field,
when age steals away wishes.
Glorious sleep that seeps back there
to the glory of our baseball days.


All is right with the world, the opening of the baseball season has begun.  I had the good fortune to watch the Minnesota Twins on opening day on Thursday with one of my best friends, the Twins kicking off the season with a tidy win in 2 hours 18 minutes, Jose Berrios pitching like an ace and Marwin Gonzalez knocked in the only two runs the Twins would need. After the long winter in Minnesota, the green grass of Target Field was a pleasure to behold.

There is a long history of writing and baseball but it is dominated by the prose of sports writers and not poetry. Poetry and baseball feels like it should be a good fit, but somehow the two aren’t a natural double play.  I had to look a while to find two poems that I think have the right feel about a game I continue to love.

It’s hard to explain why I like baseball, there is much about the game that is excruciatingly slow, but that is part of its charm. A baseball game is an invitation to a 3 hour conversation with a friend with spurts of drama thrown in around a hot dog and a beer. It doesn’t require 100 percent of your concentration, it allows for a connection with the person(s) you came with and your fellow fans sitting near.  A season is not made or lost on the outcome of one game, no matter how well or poorly your team plays. Baseball is a game of sustained excellence, mediocrity and poor play all on the same team in the same year.  It’s hard to predict how a team will be coming out of spring training, but I’m optimistic that the Twins are poised to have a better year in 2019 than 2018.

Regardless if you’re a Yankee’s fan, a Dodger fan, a Cubs fan, a Brewer’s fan, a Twin’s fan or any other team’s fan, I hope you find yourself in the seats on a sunny day of your favorite team, take a friend and enjoy the start of a new season.


A Late Elegy For A Baseball Player

By Felix  N. Stefanile

He was all back,
his stance was clumsy,
ran like a horse,
smiled with a dimple,
but Time cut him,
as easy as that,

bowled him right over,
muscle and all, for
a crick in his honest back-
the well wrought stallion,
cleats on his shoes,
and a hometown shoulder,

full of country bumps.
We read about Herakles,
and the hairy Samson,
and fake Olympic games;
the whole world boos;
but here’s Big Lou

whom Death bowled over
as the sun rose,
a lazy foul ball,
and a whole generation
of the running boys
pull up, cry loud,
At what Death caught.

 

Vastness I Should Steal Away

 

robert-frost
Robert Frost

“In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life, it goes on.”

Robert Frost

Into my Own

By Robert Frost

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.
I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.
I do not see why I should e’er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him they knew–
Only more sure of all I thought was true.


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The Last Fires Will Wave To Me

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Robert Browning (1812 – 1889)

“No, when the fight begins within himself, a man is worth something.”

Robert Browning

For The Anniversary of my Death

by W. S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what


In as much as spring is a season of renewal, it can be equally a season of death.  Whether you are a Christian or not, the Lenten season brings reminders of loss in sudden and subtle ways. I was reminded of this the past couple weeks watching a friend process again for the millionth time her connection to the landscape of her childhood home that is wrapped in more than memories. It is land that is spiritual and sacred in all seasons, particularly spring as returning swans and sand hill cranes bring with them connections to springs past. It is a place where both the life and death of loved ones still reside and in that sense of place that is home, they remain very much with her.

Lent has many different meanings to different people, but ultimately each of us are wise to find some measure of hope in reckoning our losses. A retired Catholic priest recently gave good advice to a different friend of mine who tragically lost a loved one much, much to prematurely.  He said after months of sadness, “Be careful you don’t fall in love with your grief.”  Everyone deals with grief in a different way and there is no right or wrong way or length of time, everyone has to work through it at their own speed.

In processing the death of my Mother’s sudden passing, I came to recognize that for myself, releasing grief was not an act of releasing the very physical presence of my Mother who still resides in my heart.  For me it was a process of making sure my grief doesn’t cast a long shadow on the living who still bask in my light that shines among them and in that way, honor my Mother who lit that candle in my soul.

If you are grieving  the loss of a loved one this spring, I hope you can find a suitable resting spot that is part of the place you call home to bury a slice of the intensity of that grief, so that you’ll always know where it is, and so that you can safely move on in ways that give you grace and bring renewal.


A Sequence of Sonnets on the Death of Robert Browning

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

V
Among the wondrous ways of men and time
       He went as one that ever found and sought
       And bore in hand the lamp-like spirit of thought
To illume with instance of its fire sublime
The dusk of many a cloudlike age and clime.
       No spirit in shape of light and darkness wrought,
       No faith, no fear, no dream, no rapture, nought
That blooms in wisdom, nought that burns in crime,
No virtue girt and armed and helmed with light,
No love more lovely than the snows are white,
       No serpent sleeping in some dead soul’s tomb,
No song-bird singing from some live soul’s height,
       But he might hear, interpret, or illume
       With sense invasive as the dawn of doom.