Love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart. W.H. Auden
Love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart. W.H. Auden
April 5, 1974
by Richard Wilbur
The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In the dull pasture where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch, and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law?
I stopped and blinked, and then I saw
A fact as eerie as a dream,
There was a subtle flood of steam
Moving upon the face of things.
It came from standing pools and springs
And what of snow was still around;
It came of winter’s giving round
So that the freeze was coming out,
As when a set mind, blesed by doubt,
Relaxes into mother-wit.
Flowers, I said, will come of it.
In the spirit of being thankful, the following is a poem by American poet E.E. Cummings. The poem can be found in his book Xaipe: Seventy-One Poems.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Decades ago, I visited a place where adults with mental disabilities made a living preparing large-scale mailings for businesses. I remember being impressed by their work ethic and their joy at being productive self-earners. I thought of that place recently when I read about Governor Patrick’s budget cuts that required layoffs at a Malden employment center for the blind, as well as other impacts to social services statewide. I know the Commonwealth faces a financial crisis due to a Wall Street fiasco with global impacts. I also believe the governor is a good and intelligent man, trying to do more with less in a climate overwhelmed with real fiscal problems (not counting the havoc if Ballot 1 passes—see here for earlier mention), but is this really what we’ve come to? How is it that our society cannot care for the least of us—even when it simply means giving them the opportunity to work? It reminds me of a Mary Oliver poem, unlike her in its dark brooding, but so indicative of the day:
Of the Empire, by Mary Oliver, from her book Red Bird
We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the
many. We will be known as a culture that taught
and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke
little if at all about the quality of life for
people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All
the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity. And they will say that this structure
was held together politically, which it was, and
they will say also that our politics was no more
than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of
the heart, and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness.
I thought for awhile how, or whether, to answer
That column on poetry.
You know the one, tongue-in-cheek, yet speaking
scorn on anything not an aw-shucks response to life.
(Yet, I, too, like rhymes, and comfort and things to be easy).
To brag about not knowing a word is now become
a password – shorthand for being authentic.
(Laureate is to be crowned with laurels;
earned by heroes or poets great in name,
once, they were the same.)
It’s not fair to site Poe and Frost, or even Kilmer,
without also mentioning
some horrible sing-song rhymes,
like Hallmark cards, that deaden the mind.
(Yet – once – poets and heroes – they were the same!)
Striking the populist note is easy,
let’s talk about painting, too;
Just drip or slash some paint on canvass.
And if only all music were without disturbing dissonance
Set in a pleasing major key— how easy art and life would be.
When I posted about the Favorite Poem Project earlier in the month, I learned about the videos, or “mini-documentaries” that were made along with the third book of the series Invitation to Poetry. Then I discovered that you can watch many of the videos online. They are amazing and addictive and bring home the fact that poetry should be read aloud, memorized, listened to, that it needs to be heard. These videos are especially powerful because each chosen poem is given context by the meaning it has to the person reading it. A brilliant synergy results: the poem gives us insight into the speaker’s life, even as his or her interpretation of it reveals more about the poem to us. For instance, John Ashberry’s poem The Improvement gained immensely for me by the speaker’s understanding of it. I’ve never been able to ‘crack’ Ashberry; I just don’t get him. But then a stranger with his intense appreciation of Ashberry shed a light for me to see more into the poet’s work that I ever had before. In the future, I know I will read Ashberry’s poems in a different way.
In honor of the upcoming Massachusetts Poetry Festival, taking place in Lowell and the Merrimack Valley, October 10-12, we’ll be talking more about poems and poets than usual. And why not? I continue to believe in the importance, the relevance, nay, the necessity of art and poetry, music and literature, even during, especially during, hard times. I’ve been enjoying the poetry posts by Lowell poet Paul Marion over on Richardhowe.com and am excited that this great event will be taking place here in our own backyard. Sure, the economy is tanking, the election is all-consuming, the leaves are falling, but ponder this famous short poem by William Carlos Williams (I’m sure you already know the one I mean):
It is difficult
to get the news from poems,
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
So, turn off the news, put down the paper, step away from the computer and immerse yourself in some poetry for a day or two. You’ll find it wonderfully refreshing!
I’ve been reading a rather strange and difficult book, The Sea by Irish writer, John Banville. As you follow the fractured progress of the plot, moving back and forth through several time periods as it does, the one thing that quickly becomes apparent is the brilliant, unique, obsessive style of his prose. At once lush and, as another reviewer put it, pungent, he strings his words along like a spider does a web, around and around each other and the narrator, characters and reader, until all are caught alike in this predicament we call life.
Getting to my point, one of his many obscure references was to the “Bard of Hartford.” Once having lived in that fair city, I was immediately intrigued but not sure who it was. Any takers? (No fair googling, although even that doesn’t get you too far at first). For the answer: more »
“What is it you plan on doing with your one wild and precious life?” is a line from a Mary Oliver poem that circled my head this morning when I woke early and couldn’t get back to sleep. My prayer is to spend my life with people I love, contributing something meaningful. As a recent convert to Oliver, a prolific, best-selling poet whose words resonate with simple beauty, I can’t wait to get her latest book Thirst Red Bird. For today, here is a poem fromThirst shared by Pastor Cindy Worthington-Berry, who herself always seems to be a light in my day:
“When I Am Among Trees” by Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.” The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
What is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.
This snippet from a much longer poem by James Russell Lowell popped irresistably into my head on this superlative morning. I wondered if the poet Lowell had any connection with our founding father Francis Cabot Lowell and found that Francis was half-brother to James’ father, a Unitarian minister (thanks Wikipedia!).
"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."