Sometimes, Everything I Write

Robert Lowell (1917 – 1977)

“If we see light at the end of the tunnel, it’s the light of the oncoming train.”

Robert Lowell

Epilogue

by Robert Lowell 

Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme—
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name


 

Happy New Years.   My intention has been to spend the month of January doing a deeper dive into Robert Lowell,  the last white male poet to be on the cover of Time Magazine.  It is said we all foreshadow our own destruction, but in the case of Lowell, he foreshadowed not only his own, but also nearly the down fall of poetry itself in America. 

In my mind Lowell epitomizes where the politics of poetry went wrong in the 20th Century.   For an artform that is irreparably bound to breaking all the conventions in its creation, there is still politics in the way that new poets are vetted and published and paid.  Something happened as Lowell reached the zenith of his career in the 1960’s that nearly broke poetry.  The business of poetry, which was and still is in some ways, largely controlled by an elitist insulated establishment, committed the gravest of sins in my mind, it became boring.  Lowell is the demarcation point where poetry hit the proverbial white male wall. And although there have been many fine white male poets who have carried on since, the sun has set on that regime to have the type of influence, readership and popular appeal that was possible in the first half of the 20th century.  

The 1970’s, 1980’s and beyond have seen the rise of  greater diversity, different perspectives, different expressionism and  the full ascension of free verse, to the point that many poets have forgotten,  that poetry at its essence should go beyond the page and live in our mouths as well as our minds.  It should read well aloud.  The past 40 years have carved out a niche for nearly ever type of poetry, but along with it a smaller and smaller readership, at least published, even for the most successful, such that it is harder and harder for a poet to make a living as a poet.  Poetry has become what it always was, a way of thinking, a life style, but it is only for a very talented few, who can actually make a living at it without subsidizing their passion through teaching or another line of work or an acceptance of poverty.  You don’t have to be wealthy to be a poet, but it certainly doesn’t hurt if it is your desire for it to be your vocation. And such as it has been since Homer and Browning. 

Lowell wrote 100’s of sonnets in his lifetime and translated nearly that many as well from other poets.   Yet, there is not a single sonnet of Lowell’s that I can point to that anyone is likely to be familiar or that I would give a resounding, thumbs up.  The problem with celebrating Lowell is he is hard to like because his poetry is so overtly academic, it is not accessible.  Lowell’s poems are inside jokes of arcane knowledge written for the critics and his other academic friends to decipher.  And because Lowell won nearly every award a poet can win, and was heaped with praise and success, other’s followed mistakenly down his rather drab path, creating a self-compounding problem of scaring off more and more readers.  Poetry became up and through the 1990’s more and more incestuous in the process of what is published.  In my opinion, the only thing that saved poetry from extinction was the internet.  The internet over the last 20 years made it possible for writers to self publish in ways that harken back to Dicken’s selling single page periodicals in the streets.  Anyone willing to set up a blog and willing to write could access the world.  

I honestly believe more people on the planet are reading poetry than ever before, though you wouldn’t know it to look at the poetry section in your local bookstore, that is if your local book store has survived the ravages of the past 20 years and the pandemic.  The fact that local book stores have closed in droves across the United States is further evidence of the challenges that writers face in finding their audience in the traditional printed sense.  And yet, I am blown away by the level of talent that emerges year after year.   There are more good writers of poetry than ever before, even if book sales continue to decline. 

The internet has made it possible for people to create, find and share poetry like never before.  So why spend a month diving into someone I so dislike and worse disdain? Life is too short to read bad poetry. My mantra about reading poetry is the same as it is for food, consume what you enjoy!   The reason is I have decided I would like to figure out  maybe where poetry took the wrong road less traveled, particularly classical poetry and why it hit a dead end.  And to do so, I thought it might be interesting to follow that trail back and look about.   If the sonnet is a vehicle of artistic endeavor rusting in the scrap yard in most readers minds, then let’s spend a little time with one of the writers who helped run it off the road into some trees.   Lowell was connected to so many poets, first as a student,  then through his social network as friends, and then as a professor and the writers he mentored as students, that he is one of those literary figures that sits at the center of an incredible spider web of authors from the 20th century.  I will do my best over the next 30 days, to spend the majority of the time on writers other than Lowell, to which Lowell was connected, and to actually find a poem or two of Lowell’s in his vast collected works, that I enjoy.  Wish me luck.   

Happy New Years!  And if Lowell and his cronies are not to your liking.  I will see you in February. 


Bringing A Turtle Home

by Robert Lowell

On the road to Bangor, we spotted a domed stone,
a painted turtle petrified by fear.
I picked it up.  The turtle had come a long walk,
200 millennia understudy to dinosaurs,
then their survivor.  A god for the out-of-power….
Faster gods come to Castine, flush yachtsman who see
hell as a city very much like New York,
these gods gave a bad past and worse future to men
who never bother to set a spinnaker;
culture without cash isn’t worth their spit.
The laughter on Mount Olympus was always breezy….
Goodnight, little Boy, little Soldier, live,
a toy to your friend, a stone of stumbling to God —-
sandpaper Turtle, scratching your pail for water. 


Stay Yet, My Friends, A Moment Stay

New-Year’s-Eve

New Year’s Wishes!
(body parts sonnet)

by Bruce Ballard

Your heart has wished folks well on New Year’s Eve.
You’ve sung “Should old acquaintance be forgot…”
(Your brain recalled the right words – did it not?),
And felt deep in your gut all you’ll achieve
In the year ahead.  You’ve mouthed the words
And eyed the prize you’re sure you’ll win within
The first few months.  Oh, toe the line, begin
A diet, lend a hand…it sounds absurd
Because you’ve voiced this every year.  But now
That you have Parkinson’s, you need to arm
Yourself much more, to hold at bay the harm
That Mr. P has slapped across your brow.
So, yes, you’ll face the facts, and double check
To work out, keep your chin up, save your neck.


I wonder what 2020 will mean to us 10 years from now?   Will it be just one year of discontinuity and hardship that signals the start of better things? Will we look back at it nostalgically with some small amount of pride of having survived it and been the better for it?  Or will 2020 become the moment America and the world looks back and realizes it was the start of when nothing was ever going to be the same?  

I am optimistic that the vaccines will improve our ability to return to more normal lives.  But I do not think it will convey the type of immunity that polio or measles or even the chicken pox vaccine conveys.  More likely it will be more analogous to the current flu vaccines, which improve our ability to fight off that year’s flu strain but do not totally protect us from it.  Likely this will become another requirement in our yearly flu shot routine.  The new COVID vaccines available today and the improved versions in years to come will be key tools for our public and personal health, but likely won’t be perfect.  There will inevitably be reports of people who received one of the vaccines, only to die from COVID.  In my mind, that does not mean the vaccines did not confer benefits to individuals and to society.  Nothing in health care is 100% effective. 

In the next 10 years, we will learn what the long term health consequences of having multiple infections of COVID.  We will learn whether there are positive or negative impacts of having COVID when you are younger that convey benefits or harm when you are older and a myriad other questions that only time can answer.  We will learn what the impact is on our health care system of the “long haulers”, individuals that have recovered from initial infections but continue to have debilitating symptoms long afterwards.  We will learn the consequences for those that do not take the vaccine and the impacts on their families.  We will learn as a society whether we can implement public health policies and practices that have benefited us for generations with the latest technology or will misinformation campaigns that sow seeds of fear prevail?  Will the fear of science and the onslaught of misinformation in the media steer misguided thinking towards an increase of unvaccinated?  I fear what is already a difficult proposition of getting our society inoculated at rates that benefit everyone, will be made all the more difficult by the media giving too much voice to anti-vaxers individual right to choose and thereby erode a greater public good.  I worry that bogus conspiracy theories that influence individual’s leaning towards not getting the vaccine could impact inoculation rates at levels that might erode the effectiveness of our public health.   

I think those of us that are confident in the science have an obligation to speak up for this incredible opportunity we have been given in 2021.  Vaccinations work because we mutually agree to enter into a compact as a society to take them together. We have already seen that countries with a greater mutual  cooperation around practical public health measures, like wearing a mask, achieve far superior outcomes than the United States in terms of infection rates and death.  Will we see the same with vaccination success in the coming years?   Will there be a divide between countries that achieve a high rapid percentage of  the population vaccinated and those that don’t in terms of life expectancy and COVID infection?  Will we see the United States, which used to be among the top in public health outcomes and life expectancy, continue to slip further and further behind the world’s best countries that spend far less and achieve far more? 

It all feels pretty bleak when there is such a large percentage of our community/country that still is rallying behind a much more disturbing myth of a second Trump presidency that is based on a completely imaginary alternative reality.   If we can’t agree as a society on something that is pretty black and white at this point, that Biden won a fair and accurate election, then how do we deal with more complicated issues around vaccines in which there is some shared risk and some unknowns, not so much in their safety, but in their long term efficacy?  The misguided fears of vaccines seems trivial in comparison to the current political divide, which begs the question is America capable of  mutual cooperation to achieve a greater good anymore?  

But, it’s New Years! As someone with high blood pressure and type II  diabetes I fit into the high risk category of the cross hairs of COVID.   I am looking forward to the day that I get my chance to be vaccinated and the second day sometime in 2021 or early 2022 when I will receive my booster and my body will be in a better position to fight it off.   And that hope is a bright spot waiting out there somewhere for me in the coming year.

Happy New Years!   Be well! 


A Song For New Year’s Eve

by William Cullen Bryant (1794 – 1878)

Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay –
.         . Stay till the good old year ,
So long companion of our way,
.          . Shakes hands, and leaves us here.
.            .      . Oh stay,  oh stay ,
One little hour , and then away .

The year , whose hopes were high and strong ,
.           . Has now no hopes to wake ;
Yet one hour more of jest and song
.            . For his familiar sake.
.            .   Oh stay , oh stay ,
One mirthful hour , and then away .

The kindly year, his liberal hands
.     . Have lavished all his store.
And shall we turn from where he stands,
.     . Because he gives no more?
.          . Oh stay, oh stay,
One grateful hour, and then away.

Days brightly came and calmly went,
.     . While yet he was our guest;
How cheerfully the week was spent!
.     . How sweet the seventh day’s rest!
.         . Oh stay, oh stay,
One golden hour, and then away.

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep
.    . Beneath the coffin-lid:
What pleasant memories we keep
.     . Of all they said and did!
.          . Oh stay, oh stay,
One tender hour, and then away.

Even while we sing, he smiles his last,
.     . And leaves our sphere behind.
The good old year is with the past;
.     . Oh be the new as kind!
.          . Oh stay, oh stay,
One parting strain, and then away

 

So Much Hope Now Around The Heart of Lightning

Kamau Braithwaite (1930 – 2020)

Guanahani, 11

Kamau Brathwaite 
 

like the beginnings – o odales o adagios – of islands
from under the clouds where I write the first poem

its brown warmth now that we recognize them
even from this thunder’s distance

still w/out sound. so much hope
now around the heart of lightning that I begin to weep

w/such happiness of familiar landscap
such genius of colour. shape of bay. headland

the dark moors of the mountain
ranges. a door opening in the sky

right down into these new blues & sleeping yellows
greens – like a mother’s

embrace like a lover’s
enclosure. like schools

of fish migrating towards homeland. into the bright
light of xpectation. birth

of these long roads along the edge of Eleuthera,
now sinking into its memory behind us

Not to Mention Love: A Heart for Patricia

(An Excerpt)

by David Clewell (1955-2020)

So when you turn out the light
and this page goes as dark as the room you’re lying down in
and for one night at least there are no more distractions,
it’s my heart you’ll be listening to. And it’s yours.
We fit together so well sometimes it’s not easy
telling whose lips, whose arms, whose heat in the groin,
whose very good idea. I’m not taking any chances
bigger than the one you’ve given me–your insistent heart
mixed up with mine: uh-huh, uh-huh, huh-huh,
and my heart has never been the heart it is right now.
It’s what we’ve both been waiting for: I’m asking you
to make of it what you surely will, to take it from here,
in your love beyond these imperfect words, please
take it wherever you’re going tonight from here

The Secret Of The Center Of The Heavens

The Lovers Marc Chagal
The Lovers by Marc Chagall

When, With You Asleep

by Juan Ramon Jimenez
Translated by Perry Higman

When, with you asleep, I plunge into
. . your soul,
and I listen, with my ear
on your naked breast;
to your tranquil heart, it seems to me
that, in its deep throbbing, I surprise
the secret of the center
of the world.

. . It seems to me
that legions of angels
on celestial steeds
as when, in the height
of the night we listen, without a breath
and our ears to the earth,
to distant hoofbeats that never arrive – ,
that legions of angels
are coming through you, from afar
like the THree Kings
to the eternal birth
of our love – ,
they are coming through you, from afar,
to bring me, in your dreams,
the secret of the center
of the heavens.


John Prine Christmas Album – All The Best

There are some years in which the new music of that year is my inner soundtrack. Not this year. This year was one of attrition, music being lost in my life temporarily as I didn’t go see live music, I didn’t buy new music and I boxed up and put away temporarily 99% of the music collection I own in the midst of a long drawn out move.

We lost a few musicians who have brought me joy for as long as I can remember in 2020. John Prine headlines that list. I have been a John Prine fan since my middle sister brought home his album Bruised Orange in 1978 and I loved every song on it. I honestly have bought at least one copy of every album he ever put out and more than one I have bought two or three copies having worn the old ones out. And though not every song was brilliant there was always at least one great song on every album that wormed its way into my heart. I was a John Prine fan when it wasn’t cool to be a John Prine fan. I saw him in concert in small venues, large venues and everything in between. I saw him live in every decade since 1980. I have never seen a musician who could captivate an audience with his story telling in between songs with his gentle humor and smooth growly voice.

I saw him at the Minnesota Zoo after his first round with throat cancer in the 00 years when he was still self conscious of the disfigurement of his face. It is an outside amphitheater, relatively small, seats maybe 500 or so and the warm up act had come and went and we were nearly 45 minutes beyond when the start of his show was supposed to begin on a lovely summer evening. There was beer available, so we were making the best of it, but doubts were starting to creep into our heads whether he was going to show up. And then there was an announcement over the loudspeaker, saying; “John’s Town car from the airport had been delayed in traffic and he apologizes, but before you welcome him with to the stage, would everyone in the audience please turn off and put away your phone as John has asked personally that we respect his wish for no photographs this evening.” Every single person put away their phones. I have been to a lot of events where they made the same request and it is largely ignored. This was different. John walked out on stage with his band, and before he started he stood with his head cocked and bowed, in its crooked position because of the surgery, with his guitar around his neck and he told a story. And the moment he opened his mouth it was clear his voice, although challenged, was the same voice I had heard 1,000’s of times before. It wasn’t the longest set I ever heard him play, it wasn’t the best concert of his I ever attended, but it was by far the most intimate. And as he played his guitar and sang his songs and made music with his band, there was a kinship with that audience that went beyond what most musicians ever achieve; he was singing to his friends and family.

In a year where everything else stood on its head, John Prine’s voice was one of the things that didn’t waver for me. He died of COVID in the spring and his last song that he recorded in a hotel room in London , a short time before his death, wound up being his only number one hit, posthumously. Well, that is, if you weren’t a John Prine fan. He had been making number one hits for me for decades.

Like John Prine, I wish you all the best.

Merry Christmas.

The Wind Of A Dream

Snow in Northern Minnesota Forest

White Nocturne

by Conrad Aiken

IV

I would like to touch this snow with the wind of a dream,
With a sudden warmth of music, and turn it all
To petals of roses …. Why is it that I recall
Your two pale hands holding a bowl of roses,
Wide open like lotus flowers, floating in water?
I would like to touch this snow with the wind of a dream;
To hold the world in my hands and let it fall.
We have walked among the hills immortally white,
Golden by noon and blue by night.
I would like to touch this snow with the wind of a dream:
And hear you singing again by a starlight wall .



VII

White hours like snow, white hours like eternal snow ….
Long white streets jewelled with lights ….
Our steps are muffled and silent, we scarcely know
How swiftly we cross the nights.
I would like to touch this snow with the fire of a dream,
With the mouth of a dream. And turn it all
To petals of roses …. I would like to touch you, too,
And change you into the chord of music I knew.
Can you not change?…. Run back again to April?
Laugh out at me from among young lilac leaves?….
Play with your jewels, and sing!
Feeling the earth beneath you float with spring!….
You talk in an even tone, I answer you;
And all about us seems to say
Peace …. peace …. the hills and streets are cold.
You are growing cold.

Give Me Back That Night

Conrad Aiken (1989 – 1973)

I love you, what star do you live on?

Conrad Aiken

 

Bend As The Bow Bends

by Conrad Aiken 

Bend as the bow bends, and let fly the shaft,
the strong cord loose its words as light as flame;
speak without cunning, love, as without craft,
careless of answer, as of shame or blame:
this to be known, that love is love, despite
knowledge or ignorance, truth, untruth, despair;
careless of all things, if that love be bright,
careless of hate and fate, careless of care.
Spring the word as it must, the leaf or flower
broken or bruised, yet let it, broken, speak
of time transcending this too transient hour,
and space that finds the beating heart too weak:
thus, and thus only, will our tempest come
by continents of snow to find a home.


Conrad Aiken, it is reported, avoided military service during World War I by asserting writing poetry was an “essential industry”.  I love the idea of that claim but suspect Aiken, like 200,000 other young men during conscription into service in WWI, registered as a conscientious objector. 

I am glad that Aiken’s life experience was not distorted by the horrors of war.   His poetic voice served our nation better as a gentle soul.   His writing earned him the Pulitzer Price,  a National Book Award, and he was U.S. Poet Laureate from 1950 to 1952.  Although primarily a poet, he published novels, short stories, criticism and children’s stories during his long career.  Most of Aiken’s poetry reflects an interest in psychoanalysis and the development of identity.  His short story Silent Snow, Secret Snow was widely anthologized and is an example of the theme in his writing about imagination and how it shapes our inner and outer world. The short film based on it, might appear outdated, but its black and white images fit the black and white of the words of Aiken’s page.  

I wonder if I am a member of the last generation for which black and white photography and black and white films are nostalgic, comforting and not foreign feeling.   It’s not that they were the norm when I was growing up, but it was commonplace.   The short reels our parents and grandparents shot on home camera’s that were silent, by and large were black and white, photographs our our parents as children and grandparents were mostly black and white.   When it came time to shoot my own wedding photographs, we choose black and white, it just felt right.   There is a purity and simplicity to black and white photography that is lost in our ultra stylized, colorized, customized and filtered graphic world.  We have become accustomed to high quality video and photography with brilliant colors that anything else feels amateurish.  However, I often convert my favorite digital photos into black and white to see what’s really going on in the picture.   Do you have a favorite black and white family photograph?

Silent Snow, Secret Snow

Six Sonnets

I

by Conrad Aiken

Broad on the sunburnt hill the bright moon comes,
And cuts with silver horn the hurrying cloud;
and the cold Pole Star, in the dusk, resumes
His last night’s light, which light alone could shroud.
And legion other stars, that torch pursuing,
Take each their stations in the deepening night,
Lifting pale tapers for the Watch, renewing
Their glorious foreheads in the Infinite.
Never before had night so many eyes!
Never was darkness so divinely thronged,
As now – my love! bright star! – that you arise,
Giving me back that night which I had wronged.
Now with your voice sings all that immortal host,
That god of myriad stars whom I thought lost.

To Swell Thy Christmas Chime

A Wreath

by George Herbert

A wreathèd garland of deservèd praise,
Of praise deservèd, unto Thee I give,
I give to Thee, who knowest all my ways,
My crooked winding ways, wherein I live,—
Wherein I die, not live ; for life is straight,
Straight as a line, and ever tends to Thee,
To Thee, who art more far above deceit,
Than deceit seems above simplicity.
Give me simplicity, that I may live,
So live and like, that I may know Thy ways,
Know them and practise them: then shall I give
For this poor wreath, give Thee a crown of praise.



The Christmas Wreath

by Anna de Brémont

Oh! Christmas wreath upon the wall,
     Within thine ivied space
I see the years beyond recall,
     Amid thy leaves I trace
The shadows of a happy past,
     When all the world was bright,
And love its magic splendour cast
     O’er morn and noon and night.

Oh! Christmas wreath upon the wall,
     ’Neath memory’s tender spell
A wondrous charm doth o’er thee fall,
     And round thy beauty dwell.
Thine ivy hath the satiny sheen
     Of tresses I’ve caressed,
Thy holly’s crimson gleam I’ve seen
     On lips I oft have pressed.

Oh! Christmas wreath upon the wall,
     A mist steals o’er my sight.
Dear hallow’d wreath, these tears are all
     The pledge I now can plight
To those loved ones whose spirit eyes
     Shine down the flight of time;
Around God’s throne their voices rise
     To swell the Christmas Chime!

A Touch of Myrrh

Ted Kooser

Christmas Mail

by Ted Kooser

Cards in each mailbox,
angel, manger, star and lamb,
as the rural carrier,
driving the snowy roads,
hears from her bundles
the plaintive bleating of sheep,
the shuffle of sandals,
the clopping of camels.
At stop after stop,
she opens the little tin door
and places deep in the shadows
the shepherds and wise men,
the donkeys lank and weary,
the cow who chews and muses.
And from her Styrofoam cup,
white as a star and perched
on the dashboard, leading her
ever into the distance,
there is a hint of hazelnut,
and then a touch of myrrh.



Mistletoe

 
by Walter de la Mare
 
Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.
 
Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there

A Few Old Papers

Ted Kooser (b. 1939 –

Year’s End

by Ted Kooser

Now the seasons are closing their files
on each of us, the heavy drawers
full of certificates rolling back
into the tree trunks, a few old papers
flocking away. Someone we loved
has fallen from our thoughts,
making a little, glittering splash
like a bicycle pushed by a breeze.
Otherwise, not much has happened;
we fell in love again, finding
that one red feather on the wind.


The past few years I have taken the month of January to do a deeper dive into one poet, an attempt to go beyond an understanding of a few poems and to read not only their broader canon of work, but  also their circle of influencers.   This coming January I have been planning showcasing Robert Lowell, but the closer I get to January and the more I read of Lowell the more ambivalent I become. Lowell is a little too slick, too academic, too privileged.  As much as I try to find things I like about Lowell, given the vast amount of sonnets the man wrote, in the end I just don’t like his poetry very much.   Poetry is supposed to be enjoyable for the reader, not a beat down drubbing that leaves you bored and mystified. 

Kooser, in my mind, is the anti-Lowell as a poet in some ways, but if Lowell hadn’t existed would Kooser as a poet exist?  The same could be said of Pound and others.  What I like about Kooser is his poems give me energy, whereas too many Lowell’s seems to take energy out.  Kooser, for me, embodies the best of mid-western poetry, a relatively straight forward poetic vision that lets the reader inside his world, a world that is  recognizable, not mamby-pamby, but not so stark as to scare us off.  Kooser, like his poetry, has aged well. 


Sonnet

by Karen Volkman

Say sad. Say sun’s a semblance of a bled
blanched intransigence, collecting rue
in ray-stains. Smirching pages. Takes its cue
from sateless stamens, flanging. Florid head

got no worries, waitless. Say you do. Say
photosynthesis. Light, water, airy bread.
What eats its source, its orbit? Something bad:
some plural petal that will not root or ray.

Sow stray. Salt night for saving, dreaming clay
for heap, for hefting. Originary ash
for stall and stilling. Say it will, it said.

Corolla corona, bliss-bane—delay
surge and sediment. Say instrument and gash
and ruminant remnant. Rex the ruse. Be dead.

Work Has To Be Done

Larkin

Philip Larkin

Sonnet for Elizabeth

by Joseph C. MacKenzie

I fear no more the settling of the night
Or mind its grey, evaporating shades;
Mine ears are deaf to time’s lost serenades,
Mine eyes content with thy soul’s loving light.

Thy morning’s halo puts the stars to flight,
And warms me in its luminous cascades;
And though the fairest luster sometimes fades,
No shadow taints thy bloom, O benedight!

When this brief season’s sun shall fail to rise,
And cease to gild our interfluent streams,
These verses shall emit thy beauty’s glow,

And make some heart, behind some future eyes,
To marvel how thy radiance yet gleams,
And how I loved thee, more than men could know.


Has it always been the norm from time immemorial that we experience those moments where we feel like we should be given a reprieve from this relentless expectation of earning a living and allowed to focus on what is most important right in front of us.  The vast majority of us have bills to pay and not the financial resources to take a break during our working years.  Most of us have no one who is in a position to give us that sense of security to take over the finances during a time of crisis to allow ourselves to devout our full consciousness on healing or re-invention.   Or if we do, we jeopardize the life lines that job security represents and we either have to be willing to risk it, or feel like you are not putting other’s at risk unnecessarily if you take a break.  It’s why the responsibility of being responsible is so pernicious.

In this weird epoch we have entered in 2020, where the sands seem to shift beneath our feet daily on several fronts, I think many of us are starting to question this  endless march of productivity for productivity’s sake.  It seems a bit pointless.  I stumbled across Joseph Coelho, a marvelous poet who is making video’s to help bring poetry into the classroom.   He has a whole series of video’s on YouTube around poetry.  I loved this video and his suggestion of writing a poem in the sand. 

In response to a recent post, a friend sent me the first stanza and a link to Philip Larkin’s Aubade.   Aubade is a masterful poem, both in its construction and it’s content.   A brief comment on its construction.  Each stanza is 10 lines, with roughly a rhyming sequence of ABABCCDEED.  Each line is 10 or 11 syllables long.  The five stanzas provide 50 lines and 500 syllables of canvass with which to work.  Each stanza is like a mini sonnet, with one four line ABAB clipped out.  I rather like it and will keep that idea open in the future as a writing structure for ideas that lend themselves to 20 or 30 or 40 lines. 

I appreciate Larkin’s deft touch with stark subjects.   Larkin doesn’t pussy foot around, either about himself or the world about him.   He articulates what most of us feel at times, about death and life and love; it can be a bit of a slog at times.   But Larkin has a way of weaving in a bit of hope as well, another day will dawn and the light grows stronger.  Go walk on the beach and write a poem and leave it for  strangers to be inspired and the waves at high tide to wash away. 


Aubade

By Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)
 
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.   
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.   
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.   
Till then I see what’s really always there:   
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,   
Making all thought impossible but how   
And where and when I shall myself die.   
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
 
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse   
—The good not done, the love not given, time   
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because   
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;   
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,   
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
 
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,   
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,   
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
 
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,   
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill   
That slows each impulse down to indecision.   
Most things may never happen: this one will,   
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without   
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave   
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
 
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.   
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,   
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,   
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring   
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.