Saturday, February 02, 2019

Annual poetry-reading

This is another thing that harks back to the early, early days of blogging, which I still do, even though I don't think anyone else does. (Edited to add: I happily stand corrected on that)

It was called by the grand name "Bloggers' silent poetry reading, in honor of the feast of St. Bridget" (Or Brigid, or Candlemas, or Groundhog's Day). A number of bloggers participated; mostly knitbloggers that I read did.

Of course, times have changed, most of those folks don't blog any more. But here I am still doing it. Sort of my own little Lindisfarne, maybe, or being one of those people who remember the old traditions almost forgotten. (I might not yell at clouds, but I do remember the Blizzard of 1978).

I  thought a bit about what poem to post today. Most of my favorites, I have posted down through the years. 

You're going to get a two-for today, because at first I couldn't remember the one I wanted. I knew it was a poem about mourning, and about how things didn't matter (Somehow I was remembering the dead one as a woman, but as you'll see that wasn't correct). 

Yes, both of these are kind of sad, the different ways people wrestle with death. But I've lost far too many people in recent years, both in cases sudden and in cases where you knew the inevitable was going to happen. In fact, one of my friends and I, talking about it - we are close to the same age - she noted "This was one part of getting older I never considered and was not expecting" - the fact that losses seem to accelerate, because the generations prior to yours start rapidly dying off (We've pretty much lost the generation that fought WWII, and my parents' generation - the ones who were kids during that era - are beginning to leave us)

 And the hell of it is, sometimes the memories float back up when you're not expecting them: I was thinking of, and missing Chappy's wisdom the other day. And of course there are the "scares" - a couple of them in recent years with my father, one with my mother, when you are bluntly confronted with the realization that you will one day be mourning that person....and while every other loss I've experienced is one I managed to get past, I still always wonder...

The one I thought of first was Wallace Steven's "The Emperor of Ice-Cream": 

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

I remember studying that one in school, and how we discussed how the grandiose language ("take from the dresser of deal") contrasted with the actual shabbiness of the scene (it's missing three knobs). And also the preparation of food to be eaten (presumably at the wake) and that it's probably summer (the ice-cream). And you can almost smell the (I assume it to be) cheap shabby apartment building, maybe even a tenement, and the cold practicality (the covering her face with a sheet, but maybe it's not big enough to cover her entire body). 

And, I don't know. I guess it was presented almost as a mocking of death, as a life-goes-on thing, but with maybe a little coldness - perhaps the matriarch who died wasn't so very well loved, or was a difficult person.

But that wasn't the one I was thinking of for today. The one I was thinking of ws one that went to great lengths to talk about how things should stop, should be put aside, there should be no noise. (Then I remembered the line about giving the dog a bone to shut it up, and I was able to search for it:)

It's Auden. From his Twelve Songs. This one is sometimes called "Funeral Blues"

From "Twelve Songs"
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

And while  there is that same almost-bathetic quality to the me there seems to be more grief there. (And I wonder, without looking it up, could the "he" have been Auden's lover, or Auden's imagining what it would be like to lose his lover?) But yes, the feelings evoked by the poem....while the closest person I've lost are grandparents, I can see the emotion. And another thing I think at times after losing someone I cared a lot about (or dealing with the shock of losing someone I cared about, but wasn't exceptionally close to - I think of my student who died suddenly a few years ago), the weirdness of walking around with that knowledge in your head. How it is almost as if you are going around in invisible mourning (We don't do mourning any more; there used to be strict rules of how long you wore it for a parent vs. a sibling vs. a spouse). At the most, we wear subdued clothes to the funeral but sometimes even that isn't a thing.

But the "For nothing now can ever come to any good" - oh yes, that feeling, right after you learn the news. And it doesn't even have to be a lover (though I suppose that might be even worse in some ways). I remember food not having much taste the day or so after my grandmother died. And about a year ago now, the feeling of sinking sadness after the e-mail came about Steve (and how my stupid brain even concocted an elaborate but impossible scenario: that it was a mistake, it was actually his same-named father and not him, but of course his father was, in reality, long gone, and I don't even know what his name was). And I couldn't play the piano for a couple days after that; he had known I played and was one of the few people I had ever been willing to play for.

At any rate - I suppose poems help us with mourning because they remind us we're not alone.

But I hope and pray it's a good long time before I have to experience an intensity of mourning again. These past few years, with losing so many people from church (especially) have not been fun.


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