For Old Religion’s Sake

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Ben Johnson (1572 – 1637)

“Tears are the noble language of eyes, and when true love of words is destitute. The eye by tears speak, while the tongue is mute.”

Robert Herrick

 

A Prayer To Ben Johnson

by Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)

When I a verse shall make,
Know I have pray’d thee
For old religion’s sake,
Saint Ben to aid me.

Make the way smooth for me,
When I, thy Herrick,
Honouring thee, on my knee
Offer my lyric.

Candles I’ll give to thee,
And a new altar,
And thou, Saint Ben, shalt be
Writ in my psalter.


Ben Johnson has the unique position of being the only person buried upright in Westminster Abby.   Is it because he preferred people trampling on his head and not his heart or was that all the room the church could find at the time?  Johnson was a playwright, humorist, scholar and poet.  His writing landed him in jail several times and got him out of it just as quickly.   A young Shakespeare was in the cast of one of Johnson’s plays,  Every Man in His Humour.  Johnson was a man who had the good fortune of royal patronage and the ear of James I for his clear thinking and philosophical approach to academic rigor.  In 1616 he was given an annual pension by the King, making him possibly England’s first poet laureate.

By the 1620’s Johnson’s health and productivity was in decline and several poets that followed in his footsteps, Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, and Sir John Suckling called themselves the Sons of Ben. Johnson’s late plays were a critical and financial disaster, but he had at least the good humor to write an ode to himself poking fun at his expense.

The last line of the sonnet below is confusing with the word “ceston”.  I admit I was not sure of the meaning when I first read it and after several searches of online dictionaries I am not sure I am clear yet.   Ceston is not an English word today.   Seston are minute particles in water or soil, but I don’t think that’s what is meant.  In French Ceston means basket, that makes a little more sense.  But if you know the renaissance meaning of the word ceston please help solve the mystery.  What does ceston mean?


A Sonnet to the Noble Lady, the Lady Mary Wroth

by Ben Johnson

I that have been a lover, and could show it,
Though not in these, in rithmes not wholly dumb,
Since I exscribe your sonnets, am become
A better lover, and much better poet.
Nor is my Muse or I ashamed to owe it
To those true numerous graces, where of some
But charm the senses, others overcome
Both brains and hearts; and mine now best do know it:
For in your verse all Cupid’s armory,
His flames, his shafts, his quiver, and his bow,
His very eyes are yours to overthrow.
But then his mother’s sweets you so apply,
Her joys, her smiles, her loves, as readers take
For Venus’ ceston every line you make.

Gather the Roses Of Your Life Today

 

Ronsard
Pierre Ronsard

“Love wants everything without condition.  Love has no law.”

by Peirre de Ronsard

Sonnet to Helen
By Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

When you sit aging under evening’s star
By hearth and candle, spinning yarns and wool,
You’ll sing my verse in awe and say “Ronsard
Wrought song of me when I was beautiful”


Hearing such words, your serving-maid that night,
Though half-asleep from drudging, all the same
Will wake at my name’s sound and stand upright
Hailing the deathless praises of your name.

I’ll be a boneless phantom resting sound
Amid the myrtly shades1 far underground.
You, by the hearth, a crone bent low in sorrow
For your proud scorn that willed my love away.
Live now, I beg of you. Wait not the morrow.
Gather the roses of your life today.

 

Sonnet à Hélène

by Pierre de Ronsard

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir à la chandelle,
Assise aupres du feu, devidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous esmerveillant:
« Ronsard me celebroit du temps que j’estois belle ! »

Lors vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Desja sous le labeur à demy sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille resveillant,
Benissant1 vostre nom de louange immortelle.

Je seroy sous la terre, et fantaume sans os ;
Par les ombres Myrtheux je prendray mon repos.
Vous serez au fouyer une vieille accroupie,
Regrettant mon amour, et vostre fier desdain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez2, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dés aujourd’huy les roses de la vie.


Is it that lyric poetry fell out of popular taste in the 20th century because people stopped enjoying reading it or was it because poets tired of writing it? The reality is when constrained by rhyme and meter it is nearly impossible to build upon what great minds have already thought up and put to paper beautifully centuries before.  Take Yeats classic poem When You Are Old.  It’s an obvious homage to Ronsard’s Sonnet to Helen.  Ronsard having to be a bit more clever in his use of sexual innuendo’s to adhere to the social norms of his day, while Yeats’ poem is more nostalgic in nature.  I have included Yeats poem in an earlier Fourteen Lines blog post, you can compare the two.

When You Are Old by W. B. Yeats

But it also interesting to see the connections between Ronsard and Herrick’s classic To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time.   Is it coincidence?  Or is it a function of lyric poetry of that time period, which focused mostly on subjects of love,  has limited metaphors to choose from and so it’s inevitable there would be connections and overlap? I think the truth probably lies squarely on both.  I think poets like to play and in doing so create connections and homage to writers they admire.  I think that was true in the 16th Century and I think it is true today, regardless of the style with which writer’s write. Literature is a continuum of ideas where no one person is the beginning or the end.  It is a sine-cosine wave that reverberates throughout time.  Each of us have different length strings that resonate with the vibrations of the songs that stir our imaginations.

What two poems do you find connections, obvious or obscure?  Have you written an ode to poet?  If not, what poet would you most like to write an homage?


To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

The Mother Of God


Virgin Mary

The Mother of God

By William Butler Yeats

The threefold terror of love; a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart’s blood stop
Or strikes a Sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?

 


 

I had never given much thought to the Virgin Mary, at least Catholicism’s take on the Virgin Mary, until my recent Jesuit retreat. Participants were told to bring a Rosary if they had one and I honestly wasn’t sure what a Rosary was or what “saying” the Rosary involved.  Taking it seriously, my pre-retreat instructions, I decided to find out.  A Rosary is a chain or cord with 59 beads and generally a small crucifix attached, one bead for each prayer in the Rosary.  Several weeks before, I got down from a shelf a box of crafting supplies and beads that had accumulated over the years from various jewelry projects and proceeded to make my own Rosary. As you would guess, being a Protestant, a protester, I didn’t follow the traditional design. Mine is symmetrical on each side and does not follow the typical pattern, each bead a remnant of something gifted. I found a rock in Norway that contains a natural crucifix that goes all the way through the granite as white quartz. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I intend to attach it to the Rosary as a fitting place to remind me where it is and make it complete.

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Once having constructed my Rosary, now I needed to investigate about saying the Rosary.  Fortunately, there is lots of good information on line, the Jesuits quite helpful in providing detailed information in this regard. The website I found most interesting was from Xavier University.

https://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/online-resources/prayer-index/catholic-prayers

The Rosary is a Scripture-based prayer. It begins with the Apostles’ Creed, which summarizes the great mysteries of the Catholic faith. Then an Our Father (Protestants call it the Lord’s Prayer),  introduces each mystery, followed by many, many recitations of Hail Mary in each section. There are four sets of Mysteries: Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and––added by Saint John Paul II in 2002––the Luminous.  Which version of the Rosary is recited is based on the day of the week and also on the calendar, and on the different Catholic traditions, the Jesuits versions a bit different than the other’s I have read on-line. All of them have the same goal; by using repetition within the Rosary, and by reciting the Rosary daily, the words are meant to lead the individual into restful and contemplative prayer related to each Mystery and a deeper faith. The idea is the repetition of the words helps us to enter into the silence of our hearts. The Rosary can be said privately or with a group or it can be done as a read and respond as a group chant, as was done at this retreat. It took close to 30 minutes at the retreat to recite each day, despite saying each part fairly rapidly, some in the group almost turning into a competition on how fast and loud they could respond, the result exhilarating but not the hypnotic chant to lure us into silent contemplation as it is intended.

I did not strangely, feel like a hypocrite, joining in on this daily ritual, despite my serious objections to many Catholic traditions and political positions. If you are going to be a protester, I figured I best understand more fully what is that I am protesting. The objective of why I was there was experience and inner reconciliation, not agreement or faith. We said the Rosary each day as a group walk, with one man leading it and respondents joining in each prayer after it was introduced, in a slow procession outside in two long single file lines.  The walks ended in front of a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, which I am sure in the summer time is ringed with flowers and on these cold February days was surrounded by snow.  It all felt somewhat familiar, most of the words and prayers used by Presbyterians in some modified form, right up until the end.  And that’s when things took a different and unexpected tangent in terms of my response.

Catholicism embraces the ideas of mystery and love and suffering and spectacle. I included Joyelle McSweeney’s poetry in one of the blogs proceeding this one because she is by her own words a Catholic poet, a Catholic artist, and it is from those roots of mystery and divine that her art arises.  Look back at the poem Cool Whip and see that in a different light given that perspective.

The Rosary we said each day ended with The Litany of Mary, a slightly different version than the one printed below, but essentially the same, the version we said even a bit more self flagellating and extreme in the wording.  It was the only time during the entire retreat my senses felt assaulted, I couldn’t say some of the words.  I was stunned.

The Litany of Mary

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

God our Father ln Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Most honored of virgins, pray for us.
Mother of Christ, pray for us.
Mother of the Church, pray for us.
Mother of divine grace, pray for us.
Mother most pure, pray for us.
Mother of chaste love, pray for us.
Mother and virgin, pray for us.
Sinless Mother, pray for us.
Dearest of Mothers, pray for us.
Model of motherhood, pray for us.
Mother of good counsel, pray for us.
Mother of our Creator, pray for us.
Mother of our Savior, pray for us.

Virgin most wise, pray for us.
Virgin rightly praised, pray for us.
Virgin rightly renowned, pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, pray for us.
Virgin gentle in mercy, pray for us.
Faithful Virgin, pray for us.

Mirror of justice, pray for us.
Throne of wisdom, pray for us.
Cause of our joy, pray for us.

Shrine of the Spirit, pray for us.
Glory of Israel, pray for us.
Vessel of selfless devotion, pray for us.
Mystical Rose, pray for us.
Tower of David, pray for us.
Tower of ivory, pray for us.
House of gold, pray for us.
Ark of the covenant, pray for us.
Gate of heaven, pray for us.
Morning star, pray for us.
Health of the sick, pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
Comfort of the troubled, pray for us.
Help of Christians, pray for us.

Queen of angels, pray for us.
Queen of patriarchs and prophets, pray for us.
Queen of apostles and martyrs, pray for us.
Queen of confessors and virgins, pray for us.
Queen of all saints, pray for us.
Queen conceived without sin, pray for us.
Queen assumed in to heaven, pray for us.
Queen of the rosary, pray for us.
Queen of families, pray for us.
Queen of peace, pray for us.

Blessed be the name of the Virgin Mary now and forever.

Whew. That is a lot take in, particularly if you have not grown up in the Catholic tradition. Its a bit of a shock to the system to hear it for the first time. There is much of it that is extremely beautiful. And it was moving, the entire experience of saying the Rosary, saying it aloud with 70 other men, and enjoyable except for that last bit.  It was also a bit frightening. Is this really what all these men believe?  Or is The Litany of Mary just words, that no one gives much thought in saying, a ritual that Catholics consider as being part of being a good Catholic because its tradition? Over half of the men had every word memorized. I know the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) and I memorized Hail Mary prior to the retreat, so I had memorized probably 75% of the content of the Rosary prior to attending. I have been to quite a number of Catholic services and Catholic funerals in my lifetime and I had never, ever heard The Litany of Mary.

If you visit the link above you will find some of the best crafted, most carefully thought out poetry in the form of prayers, that have ever been written. The same can be said of the Psalms. The idea of poetry and religion are inextricably bound together. You can’t divide one from the other. And yet the Catholic obsession with the idea that Mary, as Jesus’s mother, has to be pure, a virgin, who gave birth only because of immaculate conception, unspoiled by the act of love of a human man, the physical love that is procreation, is not a healthy concept in my mind in unifying our own spiritual selves with our equally divine and sexual natures.  It strikes me that this false idea is at the core of the misogyny that runs through all of Christianity and in particular Catholicism. The repetition over and over, requesting that the Virgin Mary, pray for us, pray for us sinners, because only she is pure, rings completely false in my heart. In my Canticle, we should ask the Virgin Mary to pray for us, not because she is pure, but because she is one of us and knows by her own experience, we are in need of prayer.  But then, in my Canticle, I don’t believe in Heaven, so from my perspective all of it is poetry.

There is a long, long story on how the poem that I wrote below, called Mother of God came to be.  Looking back, I am no longer sure if my version of events is true, or the version of a friend who also was present is true.  I know what I thought I heard, but hearing and memory and understanding are not a very accurate thing in my experience. Two people can hear the same words and understand them completely differently.  I am not going to relate the events that shaped me writing the poem.  When I wrote it over the course of a week last July, I never once gave a thought to Yeats and his classic poem that I have included above.  Of course, I was aware of Yeats poem when I wrote it, having read it many times prior, so it could be my subconscious at work which often happens when I write. It wasn’t until I finished mine that I put the two side by side and read each of them.

I find it fascinating that fear is the thread that runs through both like water flowing in the same and opposite directions at the same time, like eddy’s in a river.  Yeats takes the reader into the mind of the Virgin Mary and what she must have felt, as a young woman, raising such a son, raising the son of God, given the portent billions of people now place on his life and death. Yeats projecting onto Mary emotions I have experienced as a parent, as most parents do, that our children are larger than ourselves, beyond ourselves, have more godliness than ourselves. My poem is an attempt at stepping into the wisdom of an extraordinary human woman. A flesh and blood woman saying goodbye to me, shortly before her death and wishing me well on my journey, knowing that fear will be omnipresent as part of the human condition, while in the act of saying goodbye, she was also saying goodbye to her fears.


The Mother of God

by T. A. Fry

The Mother of God said; “I want for you
Fearfulness – fear of unheralded brilliance.
How else will you know a life’s full value? 
This planet’s? Or a Mother’s resilience?
Thine’s Kingdom is not built on righteousness,
Nor borne of sanctity. It arises from
The wonder in another’s selflessness.
It is through such gifts Thy will is done.”

I asked, “Why must I be fearful?” “Balance,”
She replied. “Themis weighs more than justice.
What portion peacefulness and its absence,
Tips the scales toward a life of substance.
Even in shameless life death is nursed,
So thankfulness might be our undying curse.”

I asked again, “Mother, why must I fear?”
“I want for you fearfulness so you’ll grow.
Have courage to find new seeds to sow.
Push beyond your comfort level. Never,
Ever, ever settle. And if your bravery
Becomes austere, know my Love shall never disappear.”

Strength Anew To Try

Wee Willie Winkie

Wee Willie Winkie

Traditional Nursery Rhyme
(Retold by T. A. Fry)

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Up stairs and down stairs in his night-gown,
Tapping at the window, crying at the lock,
Are the children in their beds, for it’s ten o’clock?

Hey, Willie Winkie, are you coming in?
The cat’s singing purring sounds to the sleeping hen,
The dog’s sleeping on the floor, doesn’t give a cheep,
Why then such a wakeful boy, who will not fall asleep?

Anything but sleep you rogue! glowering like the moon,’
Rattling loud your iron jug, with your iron spoon,
Rumbling, tumbling round about, crowing like a cock,
Shriekin’ like some kinda ghost, waking sleeping folk.

Hey, Willie Winkie – the baby’s in her creel!
While you’re still a wriggling, squirming like an eel,
Tugging at the cat’s ear, confusing all her thrums
Hey there Willie Winkie – grab him here he comes!”

Weary is the mother with a dusty child,
Small short sturdy ones, that run a country mile,
Children that wage a battle, before they’ll close an eye
But one more kiss, from rosy lips, is strength anew to try.


I have been using this time of staying put indoors to clean out some closets and sort some items.  I still have boxes from after my Mother’s death that I can’t quite figure out what to do.  There is a box of children’s books that are not the originals from my childhood but are sturdier copies, less love worn, of some of the classics that she used in her kindergarten classroom for the final 20 years of her career. Books like the Velveteen Rabbit, Make Way For Ducklings, A Toad for Tuesday and many picture books.  I sorted a box and a half and only found a couple that didn’t make sense to keep, not much help in winnowing the pile.

In among them was a newer book of children’s poetry.   A mixture of modern verse and old classics and nursery rhymes.  I was struck as I read so many of the nursery rhymes how perfectly metrical often the first stanzas that sound familiar to our ears and then subsequent stanzas of many feel broken and halting when read aloud. Is that because the words were not smoothed by millions of mothers and fathers reciting them each night? The first stanza is the one that was told, over and over and over again. Prior to all these screens that litter our houses, what did you do after the sun went down but read, make music and tell stories.  Children learned the literature of their family through the rhymes they were told.

What is the literature of your family?  Are their specific songs and rhymes that are part of your inner book? How many short verses can you recite from heart because someone in your life told them to you so many times to fill that space between bedtime and sleep? What poems are you keeping alive with your little ones, making sure the family treasure is passed down to the next generation?


Two Little Black Birds

Traditional Nursery Rhyme
(With a new verse by T. A. Fry)

Two little blackbirds sitting on a hill.
One named Jack and one named Jill.
Fly away Jack, fly away Jill.
Come back Jack, come back Jill.

Two little blackbirds flying in the sky.
One named Low and one named High.
Fly away Low, fly away High.
Come back Low, come back High.

Two little blackbirds sitting on a pole.
One named Fast and one named Slow.
Fly away Fast, fly away Slow.
Come back Fast, come back Slow.

Two little blackbirds sitting on a gate.
One named Early and one named Late.
Fly away Early, fly away Late.
Come back Early, come back Late.

Two little blackbirds sitting in a tree.
One named Fool and one named Free.
Fly away Fool, fly away Free.
Come back Fool, come back Free.

Jack and Jill

Retold in equity by T. A. Fry
(For no sister should be whipped for her brother’s clumsiness).

Jack and Jill
Went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
And broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

Up Jack got
And home did trot,
As fast as he could caper;
And went to bed
With a plastered head
Of vinegar and brown paper.

When Jill came in
How she did grin
To see Jack’s paper plaster;
And Mother smiled
All the while,
Suspectin’ which of them was faster.

 

 

What Does It Mean?

IMG_8378
Peter and Navarana Freuchen (1915)

Sonnet

by Edward Arlington Robinson

Oh for a poet—for a beacon bright
To rift this changless glimmer of dead gray;
To spirit back the Muses, long astray,
And flush Parnassus with a newer light;
To put these little sonnet-men to flight
Who fashion, in a shrewd mechanic way,
Songs without souls, that flicker for a day,
To vanish in irrevocable night.
What does it mean, this barren age of ours?
Here are the men, the women, and the flowers,
The seasons, and the sunset, as before.
What does it mean? Shall there not one arise
To wrench one banner from the western skies,
And mark it with his name forevermore?


I have written about the poet Edward Arlington Robinson in an earlier blog post; https://fourteenlines.blog/2018/10/18/trust-busting-not-exactly-at-its-word/ so I won’t recount his history again.   Robinson, though largely forgotten, is interesting to revisit as a poet that was writing during the last great pandemic the 1918 Spanish Flu.  I like his image of little sonnet-men hanging banners to mark the names forevermore of those lost in “this barren age of ours?”

One of the most poignant and simple narratives about the Spanish flu pandemic and about how quickly a life, a marriage and family can be changed by illness during this period was written by an unlikely source – Peter Freuchen, a renowned Danish explorer who alongside Knud Rasmussen completed many first ascents on Greenland and the polar Arctic in Canada.  Freuchen’s wife Navarana, with which he had two children, went from the peak of health to death, in a week in 1919. Navarana was an an accomplished explorer alongside her husband Freuchen on many journey’s.  She was his partner at his home and trading post in Thule, injecting his life with happiness and joy in a harsh environment. The story of their love affair and partnership is told poignantly in his book Arctic Adventure, along with the prolonged depression that followed her death.  You  have to read the book to understand the level of physical fitness that both of them had to tackle the adventures they did together, traveling by dog sled with no support, in the open and how shocking her death is in the book. Freuchen is so stricken with grief even many years later recounting it in his memoir, he writes very little about her death, words inadequate.  It is inconceivable as you read her life story in her husband’s words, that a woman as lovely, athletic and healthy can be stricken with an illness and die in so short a time.  This kind of death is like an accident, a shock wave to loved one’s senses, just like the shock wave being felt around the world again today by too many.

I worry what our neighborhoods and communities are going to be like when this is all done, when we come out of our homes and some level of normalcy is restored.   I fear that after social distancing will come a great social scattering.  I fear small businesses and shop keepers, restaurants and their staff we have taken for granted as part of the fabric of our lives, will suddenly be out of business, and disappear, scattered out of our lives.  Many others with unpaid bills will be forced to relocate, start again.  There will be too many houses on the hill that are shuddered where once we waved to friends and neighbors.   Let us hope for brighter days ahead and to rally around our families, friends and communities.


The House On The Hill

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill:
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

Broken Things Are Powerful

Eugene_McCarthy
Eugene McCarthy (1916 – 2005)

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

Isaac Asimov

Courage After Sixty

by Eugene McCarthy

Now it is certain.
There is no magic stone.
No secret to be found.
One must go
With the mind’s winnowed learning.
No more than the child’s handhold
On the willows bending over the lake,
On the sumac roots at the cliff edge.
Ignorance is checked,
Betrayals scratched.
The coat has been hung on the peg,
The cigar laid on the table edge,
The cue chosen and chalked,
The balls set for the final break.
All cards drawn,
All bets called.
The dice, warm as blood in the hand,
Shaken for the last cast.
The glove has been thrown to the ground,
The last choice of weapons made.

A book for one thought.
A poem for one line.
A line for one word.

“Broken things are powerful.”
Things about to break are stronger still.
The last shot from the brittle bow is truest.


There’s an old Sven and Ole joke that goes like this:

Sven and Ole are out snowmobiling on a January Saturday afternoon and stopping along the way to have a few drinks at some taverns on the outskirts of small towns in Northern Minnesota.  And as men are want to do, they are not the most responsible of drinkers and have a few too many.  Heading back home in the dark, driving too fast, beyond their headlights, feeling no pain, snow starting to come down heavy, they approach a set of train tracks riding side by side and just as they are crossing are hit by a train and die. Now the devil likes to greet the new souls he is welcoming to an eternity of deprivation and agony and so he stops by to see how Sven and Ole are getting along with eternal damnation the next day.   The devil is quite surprised to see them sitting around in their down vests, smiling and laughing and seemingly enjoying themselves.  The Devil asks, “How’s it going?”  Sven says, “It’s going fine, you know, winter’s are long in Minnesota, we are kinda enjoying this early spring weather you got down here in Hell.”  Well this made the devil quite upset and so he left the two nitwits and decided to turn the heat up in Hell and see how that suits them.  The next day he returns with the rest of the miserable souls howling in agony and there’s Sven and Ollie stretched out on folding chaise lounge chairs in swim suits with reflectors under their chins having a relaxing afternoon nap.  The Devil is shocked, ” isn’t it hot enough for ya”, he growls?  Ole replies, “Well you know Mr. Lucifer, Sven and I never had much money and we never made it to Florida, so this here is like our first real spring break!  We are thinking about playing some volleyball, want to join us?” The Devil storms off, furious at his failed attempts to torture these two and he thinks to himself, well, I’ll fix ’em.  So the Devil turns down the thermostat in Hell to minus 60 degrees F.   He stops back the next day to check on them, and there are Sven and Ole, dressed in their snowmobile boots, mittens and fur parkas dancing around, arm and arm, whooping and hollering, happy as can be. The Devil loses his temper, and bellows with the force of a hurricane, ‘What is the matter with you two idiots?” Sven says, “Are you blind?  Hell’s frozen over, it means the Vikings have von da super bowl!”

The Minnesota Vikings have the ignominious mantle, along with the Buffalo Bills, of being the only NFL teams to have played in four super bowls and lost them all. Minnesotan’s proudest sons have not fared well in Presidential politics either.  Hubert Humphrey, the greatest statesman and civil rights leader this state has ever produced and the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1968, entered the race too late to participate in any primaries.  Despite this, he won the nomination but couldn’t stop Richard Nixon’s sweeping conservatism into his troubled Presidency.   Eugene McCarthy, born in Watkins, Minnesota, followed Humphrey in 1972 and had even less success as the Democratic candidate. Despite being on the ultimately victorious moral side of opposing the Vietnam war and warning against the increasing subordination of our federal economy to the industrial war complex, he never had any real momentum on his side.  And to complete the trifecta of love-able losers, Walter Mondale was tapped to fall on the sword for the Democratic Party in 1984 and oppose Ronald Reagan in his second term, a losing battle from the start, taking just one state in a sea of red in the electoral college, with only Minnesota affirming him with their votes as most worthy to be President.

Politics in the short term is a tale told by the winners, but righteous losers have a way of cementing their greatness as time passes.  McCarthy was too liberal for his time and in the end became disliked by the very liberals who had placed their hope in him for a new approach than military intervention to communism. McCarthy’s post-war liberalism isolated him within the Democratic party, and his failure to win in 1968 created a lingering animosity that rapidly turned to apathy.

But McCarthy had the soul of a poet.  He understood that in the end a man has to live with himself for the choices he has made before he goes to bed each night.  McCarthy slept well, living to the ripe old age of 99, writing books, writing poetry, able to recite not only his own poems but large chunks of Yeats right up until the end. McCarthy was confident in his leadership, both his successes and failures.  He was on the right side of his moral conscience and probably better represented this country’s majority views on how we as a society look back on that point in history, even if the vote tally was not on his side in 1972.

We are at a time when leadership is essential to the success of the long term path we are heading down.  We are in need of leadership that does not squander resources or let ego get in the way of collaboration and good decision making.  We are in need of selfless leadership that is invested in the good of the many, regardless of their economic status or political power. In short, we are in need of exactly what we don’t have, competent effective candidates, on both sides of the isle.  Let us hope, that out of this troubled times, new leaders arise that can restore hope, prosperity, peace and well being as well as a functioning, bi-partisan balanced moderate government. A leadership that can help humanity deal with the larger more complicated issues facing us in restoring the health of this planet and it’s inhabitants and deliver health care that is within the reach of all.

With the surreal nature of our current days, it is hard for my brain to function.  I have written next to nothing in terms of poetry this year, 2020 starting out as a barren desert in terms of my creativity.  I have never understood where most of my poetry originates, but this sonnet came about very slowly over the past two months, with far too many revisions to feel like it has any real purpose.  I still read it and think its jiggly goobly-dee-gook. At present, I am mostly annoyed with it, having spent far too much time indoors with it as my only companion and tired of its nagging persistence to continue on fussing with it, thinking something interesting might yet emerge. I am sharing this working draft, only as an admission that even writing is a poor companion when cooped up indoors alone, in need of human contact.  My fellow bloggers and poets, may all of you fare better.  At the same time, I see a little spark lurking somewhere in it.  I hope this sonnet is my self conscious, goading me on, with age 60 still a few years away, to stay optimistic in these surreal days and weeks, and keep dancing.


To Dance The Jig At 60

By T. A. Fry

Rounding to the final quarter lap,
Most ready, eccentric with intention;
No hero’s welcome in my tattered maps,
Semi-precious stones and pretense of direction.

Abundant, a  love surrounds me,
A threnody? To dance the jig at sixty.
Unwind old creaks and pangs and zings,
It’s frisky, if not quite wholly steady.

Wearied, more or less, pedestrian these pains,
The stuff of age and overuse, retread
Or lose the stage, for much is left to gain!

I can hear sweet nothings; revisiting your words,
Humming old refrains.  Hoping murmurs aural,
Are love’s echoes, the ones my soul sustains.

 

 

We Are Learning To Make Fire

attwood
Margaret Atwood (1939 –

We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love.

Dr. Sigmund Freud

Habitation

by Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

It is before that, and colder:

the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
eating popcorn
where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire


Marriage is a never ending quest of learning how to make fire, fires that can kindle the warmth of our hearts and  if you’re not careful, a fire that can get away from both of you and burn the house down. I wrote the sonnet My Courage Be in March of 2016.  I had finished a rough draft of a chap book that contained poems written the previous two years, wrestling with the difficult separation from my wife, having lived together for 32 years.  I asked a friend to read it and give me some feedback. After doing so, she said, “something’s missing, think about it.”  I did think about it. This sonnet emerged.


My Courage Be

By T. A. Fry

Pale though my courage be, I stand adorned
by love’s wreath of thorns.  Astride her gracious steed.
Her hounds hackles raised  ready for the horn,
with a bay-full mourn all straining at their leads.
Then it sounds!  The whippers-in loose the pack
to attack as is their want.  To find a trace
pleasing to them this day.  Though it may lack
the former grace of youth’s alluring face.
All this has come before and shall again.
There is but one story before my fall.
An old tale of love,  a trusted friend.
What else awaits at the end of it all?
Please.  Of my faithfulness,  let it be known.
I carry still your love within my bone.