Monday, October 28

Sun and Shadow

By: Oliver Wendell Holmes

As I look from the isle, o'er its billows of green,
To the billows of foam-crested blue,
Yon bark, that afar in the distance is seen,
Half dreaming, my eyes will pursue:
Now dark in the shadow, she scatters the spray
As the chaff in the stroke of the flail;
Now white as the sea-gull, she flies on her way,
The sun gleaming bright on her sail.

Yet her pilot is thinking of dangers to shun --
Of breakers that whiten and roar;
How little he cares, if in shadow or sun
They see him who gaze from the shore!
He looks to the beacon that looms from the reef,
To the rock that is under his lee,
As he drifts on the blast, like a wind-wafted leaf,
O'er the gulfs of the desolate sea.

Thus drifting afar to the dim-vaulted caves
Where life and its ventures are laid,
The dreamers who gaze while we battle the waves
May see us in sunshine or shade;
Yet true to our course, though the shadows grow dark,
We'll trim our broad sail as before,
And stand by the rudder that governs the bark,
Nor ask how we look from the shore!

Some things are important and it's vital to pay attention to them.  Some things are inconsequential and can safely be ignored.  Some things, whether life is easy or life is troubled, must always remain a focus.  The consequences should a person do otherwise...

Saturday, October 26

From the Frontier of Writing

The tightness and the nilness round that space
when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
its make and number and, as one bends his face

towards your window, you catch sight of more
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
down cradled guns that hold you under cover

and everything is pure interrogation
until a rifle motions and you move
with guarded unconcerned acceleration-

a little emptier, a little spent
as always by that quiver in the self,
subjugated, yes, and obedient.

So you drive on to the frontier of writing
where it happens again.  The guns on tripods;
the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating

data about you, waiting for the squawk
of clearance; the marksman training down
out of the sun upon you like a hawk

And suddenly you're through, arraigned yet freed,
as if you'd passed from behind a waterfall
on the black current of a tarmac road

past armor-plated vehicles, out between
the posted soldiers flowing and receding
like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.

Seamus Heaney uses perspective in a way that centers on one person but shows a panorama.  I like the broad view of this singular scene and the narrative he uses to achieve it.  I particularly like the third stanza, its rhythm and resonance.  To me, it is the emotional heart of the poem.

Thursday, October 24

From Guinevere

Today's offering is from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idylls of Arthur - Guinevere:

And courtliness, and the desire of fame,
And love of truth, and all that makes a man.
And all this throve before I wedded thee,
Believing, "lo mine helpmate, one to feel
My purpose and rejoicing in my joy."
Then came thy shameful sin with Lancelot;
Then came the sin of Tristan and Iseult;
Then others, following these my mightiest knights,
And drawing foul example from fair names,
Sinned also, till the loathsome opposite
Of all my heart had destined did obtain,
And all through thee! so that this life of mine
I guard as God's high gift from scathe and wrong,
Not greatly care to lose; but rather think
How sad it were for Arthur, should he live,

What draws me to this is not the casting of blame, though it is present.  (We do so love to justify ourselves.)  Rather, it is the tremendous impact one sin can have.  Here, Guinevere's sin has caused the destruction of everything important to Arthur, including their relationship.  He no longer cares whether he lives or dies.  What he had, what he thought he had, has shattered.  His closest personal relationships - that with his wife, that with his friend Lancelot - are broken.  

Furthermore, he is the king.  One sin's destruction makes wide waves throughout his kingdom, rippling out to affect everyone within it.  We see Arthur's sorrow.  He sees his people's sorrow.  Heartbroken for his marriage, heartbroken for his people, living now seems a burdensome task.  What once he held as highest gift, he is not bothered now to lose.

What we define as love is no such thing.

Sunday, October 20

The Most Important Decision

Is your heart an ocean so strong and deep,
I may launch my all on its tide?
A loving woman finds heaven or hell
On the day she is made a bride.

From A Woman's Question by Lena Lathrop

The most important decision a person will make is who they choose to marry.  This poem is written from the woman's perspective but change a few nouns and pronouns to the masculine in the last two lines and it holds just as true.

One way to find marriage like heaven is through three words - the three most important words in a marriage.  What are they?

I forgive you.

And why do we forgive?

Because.  Because we are all sinners in need of grace.  We have all sinned and will sin again, and again, and again, and again, and Christ has won for us forgiveness, freely given.  He has declared us righteous and we are.  That is joy-bringing knowledge.  Knowing what joy it brings us to be forgiven, doesn't it make sense that we would extend forgiveness to the person with whom we have been made one?

Saturday, October 19

A Goal While Aging

The Scholars
Bald heads forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love's despair
To flatter beauty's ignorant ear.

All shuffle there; all cough in ink;
All wear the carpet with their shoes;
All think what other people think;
All know the man their neighbor knows.
Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?

-William Butler Yeats, Selected Poems and Four Plays (1996). Edited by M.L. Rosenthal, Fourth Edition

I keep a journal.  Mostly I do so because in writing about events I gain valuable perspective.  I see where I could have handled things better, where I handled them well, and where I'm being flat out ridiculous.  There's an excessive amount of my being riddikulus.  But I also journal because time changes a person's perspective and I want to better remember exactly how I felt when faced with a challenge, a wonderful event, and anticipation.  It's important to be able to relate to people and if, in old age, I do not remember how it felt to be desperately in love, as the old men in this poem have forgotten, then I have lost something precious to me and, even more precious, I have lost the ability to closely relate to how younger people in my life are feeling.  So I write and hope that in fifty years my journals help me remember.