June 4, 2010

Consolation and the Lack Thereof*


I made the more important of my two deadlines today . . . and the other one is going to have to wait till tomorrow morning.  Siiiigh.  Which probably means I’m not going to get Oisin’s miniatures done for tomorrow’s cup of tea with possible keyboard accompaniment either.   And then there were handbells.  SIIIIIGH.  We were trying something only slightly new—a jiggered-up version of bob minor, bob minor being More or Less the One Thing I Can Ring on Handbells, and in this variant you are basically doing it backwards—and we were making very heavy weather of it** and ran most of a half-hour over time.  And then I bolted outdoors to plant a dahlia.  And a few snapdragons. . . .

            It’s good in one way:  there’s a strong life-going-on feeling*** while I’m a trifle preoccupied with various lives that are not going on the way they should.  But before I mash my stiff upper lip totally back in place I wanted to give you a few more poems about life and not going on.

 Several people posted poems to the forum in response to my blog about sequoia trees.  They’re all worth rereading† but these are the two that are haunting me.  Glinda posted this first one and I thought yes, exactly, why hadn’t I remembered it?   I love Millay—I feel she does a kind of heightened ordinary reality;  something you understand completely, but with a light on it you wouldn’t have been able to shine all by yourself.   This one blew me away the first time I read it, probably pushing forty years ago, and before I knew much about incurable wounds and death. 

“Dirge without music” – Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

NotLonely posted this one, which was new to me.  I am not resigned—nor am I consoled—and I clearly don’t listen to things enough.  But I am still moved by the message. 

Forefathers (Birago Diop, Senegal)

Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of the water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees,
It is our forefathers breathing.
The dead are not gone forever.
They are in the paling shadows
And in the darkening shadows.

The dead are not beneath the ground,
They are in the rustling tree,
In the murmuring wood,
In the still water,
In the flowing water,
In the lonely place, in the crowd;
The dead are not dead.

Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice.
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees.
It is the breathing of our forefathers
Who are not gone, not beneath the ground,
Not dead.

The dead are not gone forever.
They are in a woman’s breast,
A child’s crying, a glowing ember.
The dead are not beneath the earth,
They are in the flickering fire,
In the weeping plant, the groaning rock,
The wooded place, the home.
The dead are not dead.

Listen more often to things rather than beings.
Hear the fire’s voice,
Hear the voice of water.
In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees.
It is the breath of our forefathers.

A friend sent me this one, saying that she would have posted it to the forum, but felt that since it was still under copyright, probably better not.  It’s all over the web however—I found a good half dozen copies, and stopped looking merely when I found one that didn’t have an incredibly icky advertisement slap next to the text you’re trying to focus on.  But I also really want you to read it, so I’m risking copying and pasting the whole thing, not just the link.

            I’m ashamed to say I don’t know Kate Ryan, current US poet laureate http://www.loc.gov/poetry/laureate_current.html  But I’ve just added The Niagara River to my want list.†† 


Poem: “Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard” by Kay Ryan from The Niagara River. © Grove Press. Reprinted with permission.
Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small—
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn’t
be so hard.

And then to finish, one from Siegfried Sassoon. †††  After muttering and cruising bookshelves and web for a while I said to Peter, I need a poem about joy.  Peter’s who thought of this one, and it’s perfect—it’s the right kind of joy—the fragile, hopeful, surrounded-by-sorrow kind of joy. 

Everyone Sang 

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;

And I was filled with such delight

As prisoned birds must find in freedom,

Winging wildly across the white

Orchards and dark-green fields; on—on—and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;

And beauty came like the setting sun:

My heart was shaken with tears;  and horror

Drifted away . . . O, but Everyone

Was a bird;  and the song was wordless;  the singing will never be done. 

* * *

* Possibly mostly the lack

** Something like lightning, hail and mudslides. 

*** Critters are, of course, built for this duty.  They know the schedule.  Moping is not on it. 

† You don’t have to join the forum^ to read the threads, you know.  You only have to join if you want to comment. 

^ Although it’s really easy to join.  Even I could do it. 

†† “£$%^&*}#!!!! Frelling Waterstones doesn’t frelling have The Niagara River!  ARRRRRRRRGH. 

††† You can also find it on http://www.bartleby.com/137/34.html


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