FRIENDS, we all know we’re living in a dangerous time. We don’t know what will happen to us. Will war — one final war, perhaps — put an end to life on Planet Earth? Or will it be fires and floods, storms and droughts, that will write the final pages of our history on this little globe of ours?
If we go, will any one out there remember us? Will the universe remember that we struggled, we tried to resist . . . ?
That we even made up a little nursery rhyme to help us endure our fears about our leader?
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty had a great fall.
All the team’s horses and all the team’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Oh well . . . .
As for walls, and border walls, I have to throw this in. Here’s a fellow creature who knows how to use such a thing as a bossy Wall.
“Who’s that scratching my back?” said the Wall.
“It’s me,” said a small caterpillar.
“I’m learning to crawl.”
AS YOU CAN SEE, my friends, I’m a frightened person, and I like to hold close to me at times what is decent and good about Planet Earth: the small ways and byways of our communal life . . . and our arts.
We’re all creators, I think, in our daily lives, but we have, as well, the formal arts of the past and present to comfort us — the beautifully differentiated music, for instance, of ages and ages past, the designs we once drew on the walls of caves, and our long history of delicate poetry.
I MUST PAUSE here to say, my friends, that I know the post below is too long. My friend Maureen, who helped me set up this blog, a few years ago, says, ”Why not write more often now — but shorter?”
That’s good advice, I bet.
Too late, though, for the five beautiful poems below. I’m not a violent person, and I can’t murder a single one of them! Don’t ask me to do that.
I gotta say, too, that I’m not very good at these Wordpress posts — I can’t get things to line up half the time, or the poems to single-space, or the colors to match, or the photos to mesh the way I’d like them to. Can’t always enlarge titles! (Yet I’m grateful to WordPress for the free service it provides! The staff works hard, and all of us users help each other out.
See here, in any case, two poems by Walt Whitman, two by William Wordsworth, and a modern verse by a woman, Dilys Laing, who grew up in Wales, and is writing to a grown child during a dangerous time like ours today.
Perhaps you can enjoy this little verse by Walt Whitman.
Is it trivial, this little spider tale? No, no, you will see that it is not . . . .
A Noiseless Patient Spider
By Walt Whitman
A noiseless patient spider, I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated, Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding, It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. And you O my soul where you stand, Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space, Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them. Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
WALT WHITMAN, btw, was an amazing fellow. There will never be anyone like him. He was sometimes not much more than a tramp, but everything in his life, his wanderings, his feelings, the people and places he came upon, were poetry to him. He poeticized his entire life, and heaped it all into a huge, ever-changing mega-poem called Leaves of Grass.
I love Whitman for his work during the Civil War in a hospital in Washington D. C. , giving comfort to the wounded and dying men there, on both sides, writing letters for them — and turning against that war . . . and all wars!
Somehow I want to skip forward here to Whitman’s last years and his beautiful requiem for himself — “Good-bye, My Fancy.” You’ll see that a “Fancy” is his term of affection for his writings, his poetry-making powers, his creative genius, if you will.
GOOD -BYE, MY FANCY by Walt Whitman
GOOD-BYE my Fancy!
Farewell dear mate, dear love!
I’m going away, I know not where,
Or to what fortune, or whether I may ever see you again,
So Good-bye my Fancy.
Now for my last–let me look back a moment;
The slower fainter ticking of the clock is in me,
Exit, nightfall, and soon the heart-thud stopping.
Long have we lived, joy’d, caress’d together;
Delightful!–now separation–Good-bye my Fancy.
Yet let me not be too hasty,
Long indeed have we lived, slept, filter’d, become really blended into one;
Then if we die we die together (yes, we’ll remain one).
If we go anywhere we’ll go together to meet what happens,
Maybe we’ll be better off and blither, and learn something,
Maybe it is yourself now really ushering me to the true songs, (who knows?)
Maybe it is you the mortal knob really undoing, turning–so now finally,
Good-bye–and hail! my Fancy. ##
WORDSWORTH, my friends, seemed to write mostly about women, and often about his main companion in life, his sister Dorothy. They loved country life, their rambles and long hikes. Below is a pretty piece about a woman they saw and heard working in a field — singing.
It seems that some smart, seen-it-all intellectuals don’t especially admire the romantic poets any more, but some of us go back and back again to this age of brilliant English verse. (I hope to post soon the great poem by John Keats — just that, perhaps — called “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” with its five long wonderful stanzas.)
The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth
BEHOLD HER, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.
No Nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands:
A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.
Will no one tell me what she sings?—
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago:
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of to-day?
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?
Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o’er the sickle bending;—
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more. ##
Wordsworth, you know, was a naturalist and environmentalist. Remember this verse, my friends?
The World Is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth
THE WORLD is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn. ##
So sad, my friends, that sometimes we want to speak such somber thoughts as those below to a child. In her day, Dilys Laing (1906-1960) was a well-known U. S. poet. She grew up in Wales, married an American.
FORGIVE ME by Dilys Laing
FORGIVE ME for neglecting to show you that the world is evil.
I had hoped your innocence
would find it good
and teach me what I know to be untrue.
Forgive me for leaving you open to persistent heartbreak
instead of breaking your bright heart with medicinal blows.
I had hoped your eyes would be stars
dispelling darkness wherever you looked.
Forgive me for a love that has delivered you unwarned to treachery.
Now I confess that the world,
more beautiful for your presence,
was not fine enough to warrant my summoning you into it.
My beloved. ##
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