“The Best Is Yet To Be”

I never thought I would be alive at the age of 77. My father died at 74 years old; and my mother, at 79. When I was a student at St. Henry Elementary School, I thought, “Gosh, I’ll be 55 years old when we get to the year 2000.” I passed that milestone at a run.

In the illustration above, I am somewhere between the third and fourth figure. Thankfully, my health is good. I can get about without a cane, though I find going down a flight of stairs to be painful. Kneeling on a hard surface is out of the question.

When I think about aging, I call to mind the first stanza of Robert Browning’s poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra”:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!” 

I see some of my friends fall by the wayside, some dying, some suffering personality disorders as they age, and some just isolating themselves.

This is not a subject anyone likes to think about. There are, however, dangers inherent in suppressing any important subject.

The times are always bad—and always have been. Yes, what is happening in Ukraine is terrible. But so was ducking under my school desk at St. Henry to practice for a Communist H-Bomb attack. So was World War Two. So was … oh … Genghis Khan.

I always wanted to be a writer. And in a manner of speaking, I am one. I don’t care about compensation or fame. Just sitting down around 9 o’clock most evenings and writing this blog is a worthwhile effort. It makes me feel good about myself.

“Try to Praise the Mutilated World”

Polish Poet Adam Zagajewsky (1945-2021)

We lost another great poet last year when Adam Zagajewsky died in Kraców, Poland. He is one of a handful of Central and Eastern European poets whose work I have come to love, poets like Joseph Brodsky, Czeslaw Milosz, Wisława Anna Szymborska, and Boris Pasternak. This is one of my favorites among his works:

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees going nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

The translation is by Clare Cavanagh.

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Edna St. Vincent Millay in 1914

This short poem is representative of the turbulent life of its author, Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950). Until an auto accident left her in deep pain and dependent on morphine, Millay had lived an interesting and often promiscuous life.

Figs from Thistles: First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!

Improbable Rhymes

No doubt you’ve heard of those one-of-a-kind words in English that just won’t rhyme with any other words. Well, it seems that the Futility Closet has punked three of those unrhymable words: month, orange, and oblige. Let’s have a look-see at Willard R. Espy’s poem on the subject:

Procrustes

It is unth-
inkable to find
A rhyme for month
Except this special kind.

The four eng-
ineers
Wore orange
Brassieres.

Love’s lost its glow?
No need to lie; j-
ust tell me “go!”
And I’ll oblige.

In the meantime, I’ll go searching for those four engineers wearing orange brassieres.

The Celebration of the Lizard

Jim Morrison of The Doors

We know him from The Doors, but he was also a decent poet. He had to be, particularly considering his original songs, particularly in his group’s initial album, The Doors (1967). I am not that much into rock music, but I did take the trouble to visit Jim Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris after he died of a drug overdose.

Here is one of my favorites among his poems:

The Celebration of the Lizard

Lions in the street & roaming
Dogs in heat, rabid, foaming
A beast caged in the heart of a city

The body of his mother
Rotting in the summer ground.
He fled the town.

He went down South
And crossed the border
Left the chaos & disorder
Back there
Over his shoulder.

One morning he awoke in a green hotel
W/a strange creature groaning beside him.
Sweat oozed from its shiny skin.

Is everybody in?
The ceremony is about to begin.

Wake up!
You can’t remember where it was.
Had this dream stopped?
The snake was pale gold glazed & shrunken.
We were afraid to touch it.
The sheets were hot dead prisons.
And she was beside me, old,
She’s, no; young.
Her dark red hair.
The white soft skin.
Now, run to the mirror in the bathroom,
Look!
She’s coming in here.
I can’t live thru each slow century
of her moving.
I let my cheek slide down
The cool smooth tile
Feel the good cold stinging blood.
The smooth hissing snakes
of rain…

Once I had a little game
I liked to crawl back in my brain
I think you know the game I mean
I mean the game called “Go Insane”

Now you should try this little game
Just close your eyes forget your name
forget the world, forget the people
and we'll erect a different steeple.

This little game is fun to do.
Just close your eyes, no way to lose
And I'm right here, I'm going too
Release control, we're breaking through

Way back deep into the brain
Way back past the realm of pain
Back where there’s never any rain

And the rain falls gently on the town
And over the heads of all of us

And in the labyrinth of streams beneath
Quiet unearthly presence of
Nervous hill dwellers in the gentle hills around
Reptiles abounding
Fossils, caves, cool air heights

Each house repeats a mold
Windows rolled
A beast car locked in against morning
All now sleeping
Rugs silent, mirrors vacant
Dust blind under the beds of lawful couples
Wound in sheets
And daughters, smug with semen
Eyes in their nipples

Wait! There’s been a slaughter here

Don’t stop to speak or look around
Your gloves and fan are on the ground
We’re getting out of town
We’re going on the run
And you’re the one I want to come!

Not to touch the earth, not to see the sun
Nothing left to do but run, run, run
Let's run, let's run

House upon the hill, moon is lying still
Shadows of the trees witnessing the wild breeze
Come on, baby, run with me
Let's run

Run with me, run with me, run with me
Let's run

The mansion is warm at the top of the hill
Rich are the rooms and the comforts there
Red are the arms of luxuriant chairs
And you won't know a thing till you get inside

Dead president's corpse in the driver's car
The engine runs on glue and tar
Come on along, not going very far
To the east to meet the Czar

Run with me, run with me, run with me
Let's run

Some outlaws live by the side of a lake
The minister's daughter's in love with the snake
Who lives in a well by the side of the road
Wake up, girl! We're almost home

Sun, sun, sun
Burn, burn, burn
Moon, moon, moon
I will get you soon...soon...soon!

I am the Lizard King
I can do anything

We came down the rivers and highways
We came down from forests and falls
We came down from Carson and Springfield
We came down from Phoenix enthralled

And I can tell you the names of the kingdom
I can tell you the things that you know
Listening for a fistful of silence
Climbing valleys into the shade
~~~

For seven years I dwelt in the loose palace of exile
Playing strange games with the girls of the island
Now I have come again to the land of the fair
And the strong and the wise

Brothers and sisters of the pale forest
Children of night
Who among you will run with the hunt?

Now night arrives with her purple legion
Retire now to your tents and to your dreams
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth
I want to be ready

The Finished House

I have always loved the prose and poetry of George Mackay Brown, whom I met in 1976 in Stromness on the Orkney Mainland. (They call it the Mainland, even though it’s an island.) I have visited there twice, both times in bad weather, which I think is the only kind of weather prevailing there.

The Finished House

In the finished house a flame is brought to the hearth.
Then a table, between door and window
Where a stranger will eat before the men of the house.
A bed is laid in a secret corner
For the three agonies – love, birth, death –
That are made beautiful with ceremony.
The neighbours come with gifts –
A set of cups, a calendar, some chairs.
A fiddle is hung at the wall.
A girl puts lucky salt in a dish.
The cupboard will have its loaf and bottle, come winter.
On the seventh morning
One spills water of blessing over the threshold.

“Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold”

A good number of dwarves will fill the screen in the upcoming movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but they’re just a few of the hundreds of characters J.R.R. Tolkien created for Middle-Earth.

As I am re-reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit for the second time, I thought I might reprint the words from one of the songs in the book—probably the most evocative of them all.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold.

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.

For ancient king and elvish lord
There many a gleaming golden hoard
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.

On silver necklaces they strung
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, in twisted wire
They meshed the light of moon and sun.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away, ere break of day,
To claim our long-forgotten gold.

Goblets they carved there for themselves
And harps of gold; where no man delves
There lay they long, and many a song
Was sung unheard by men or elves.

The pines were roaring on the height,
The winds were moaning in the night.
The fire was red, it flaming spread;
The trees like torches blazed with light.

The bells were ringing in the dale
And men looked up with faces pale;
Then dragon’s ire more fierce than fire
Laid low their towers and houses frail.

The mountain smoked beneath the moon;
The dwarves, they heard the tramp of doom.
They fled their hall, to dying fall
Beneath his feet, beneath the moon.

Far over the misty mountains grim
To dungeons deep and caverns dim
We must away, ere break of day,
To win our harps and gold from him! 

Is and Is Not

Scene from Sesshu Toyo’s Long Scroll

The following is from Sam Hammill’s translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching written some 2,500 years ago:

Beauty and ugliness have one origin.
Name beauty, and ugliness is.
Recognizing virtue recognizes evil.

Is and is not produce one another.
The difficult is born in the easy,
long is defined by short, the high by the low.
Instrument and voice achieve one harmony.
Before and after have places.

That is why the sage can act without effort
and teach without words,
nurture things without possessing them,
and accomplish things without expecting merit:

only one who makes no attempt to possess it
cannot lose it.

Because It Is Bitter…

The following poem by Stephen Crane is short and cryptic. But it sticks in one’s craw. And the last two lines were taken by Joyce Carol Oates as a title for one of her novels.

In the Desert

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”

The Little White Chapel

This is my last posting until I return from Las Vegas, probably on Thursday. I will leave you with a poem by Brenda McGrath entitled “Little White Chapel”:

Little White Chapel

When my husband and I were in Las Vegas, I had a great suggestion,
To go to the Little White Chapel, and renew our vows in celebration.
I thought it would be such a lark we wouldn’t forget.
Having Elvis perform the ceremony would be the best thing yet!

However we never made it to the chapel, he refused.
To do such a silly thing did not leave him amused.
Maybe that was an indication of what was to come.
Divorce ensued, and sorrow beat its drum.

I want to go to the Little White Chapel with a new man.
We would have so much fun before our life began!
We could play a slot machine on our way out.
Then we would be man and wife with a payout!