When May bursts forth all moisture and mirth,
And birds bestir while you are still abed,
With everything bent on fostering birth,
And balmy blossoms like a banquet spread
Call to the wanderer weary and wan,
“Close your eyes and breathe and remember nights
When you lay upon the redolent lawn,
And took your bashful taste of love’s delights.”
For though that time is but a glimmer now,
And keenness of the night is now subdued,
A fragrant echo still awakes somehow,
And stirs again a near forgotten mood.
One kiss with wonder could the world endow.
In one embrace you found all you pursued.
NOTES: Love when you are young and young love at any age share a common quality. My favorite month of May reminds me of that.
When I was very young and in love for the first time, I ran across a short little Robert Browning poem called Summum Bonum, which spoke to me quite vividly. Many years and many miles later, I discovered — thankfully — that you did not have to be young to fall in love again.
There just may be a whisper of an echo from that poem in here.
Some poets have conducted quite conventional careers during the day to support their poetry habit at night. Insurance executive Wallace Stevens and physician William Carlos Williams are a couple of well known examples.
Dylan Thomas really couldn’t do much else besides write poems, and so he waged a losing war with poverty until he drank himself to death. He probably would have perished much sooner except for the fact he was able to charm wealthy female admirers into becoming patronesses.
About the only thing I have in common with the aforementioned gentlemen is that while I sometimes commit poetry, I also need another means to make a living.
I started my professional life in the 1970s as an ink-stained wretch of a newspaperman. While chasing deadlines was exhilarating when I was still a young man, there were already storm clouds on the horizon for journalism. Afternoon dailies were going extinct, and cities that had formerly had 2, 3 or more newspapers were seeing them merge or go out of business.
Little did I know that in just a few years, the internet would come along and fatally wound the mainstream media organizations, forcing them to trim their newsrooms and close regional bureaus.
I sensed that there was a disturbing uniformity of political opinion in the newsrooms of my youth. My own political worldview was still evolving, but even back then everybody I worked with seemed to be left-leaning and Reagan-loathing. The lockstep groupthink bothered me.
In my naïve idealism, I thought journalists were supposed to be fiercely objective. I never caucused with any party, and I strove to play my own coverage right down the middle. I’d have coffee with both Democrats and Republicans, and always made sure to pay my own check because I didn’t want to owe anybody anything.
When the owner of one paper tried to pressure me to join the local Rotary Club, I refused because I didn’t want membership to influence my coverage of any organization.
If I had still been a journalist this past year I think my head would have exploded. With news organizations colluding with political campaigns, and sharing debate questions in advance with the favored candidate, it became clear that our creaky old news institutions had jumped the shark.
I would have burned my press card in protest.
I wish I could say I was smart enough to foresee the death of journalism and jump ship intentionally, but it was more random than that. I was about to get married and I needed a job in Minneapolis. The cash-strapped metropolitan dailies weren’t hiring right then, and so I took the first job I could get.
Fortunately I had stumbled my way into direct marketing. That later led me into non-profit fundraising. The bulk of my career since has been helping good causes raise money. Healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans, defending the persecuted, visiting those in prison, bringing the good news to those in bondage — that sort of thing.
I began to appreciate what I do a whole lot more when I stopped thinking about it as marketing and started thinking about it as “soul stirring.” When I’m doing it right, I touch the heart to stir people up to good works, and inspire them to be generous.
If you ask me, that’s really just a short step away from poetry. It’s all soul stirring.
The leaves, the leaves are gone except the oak,
Which cling to trees and rattle needlessly.
The others flame and fall for all to see.
They streak and sizzle, leaving only smoke.
But oak leaves hang as by some unseen yoke,
All browned and curled awaiting sympathy,
Or sap to course and lend vitality–
The leaves cannot perceive the sorry joke.
For spring will end the lie and they will drop,
To drift and rot and turn in time to dust.
As sure as buds will burst to make a crop
Of new, the old will flutter down–they must.
The falling leaves like lovers never stop.
It’s hardly gentle, but ’tis just, ’tis just.
Notes: Some of my favorite poems compare the death that comes in the autumn to the end of a love. Or poems that use the dying natural world when winter approaches as the backdrop for the story.
I think of Robert Frost’s Reluctance, with its heartbreaking line about it being treasonous “to bow and accept the end of a love, or a season.”
I may never have discovered Ransom had it not been for my 11th grade English teacher, Paul Hagedorn, back in Marshall, Missouri. We spent an inordinate amount of time on poetry that year. The major assignment, as I recall it, was to select an American poet from a lengthy list, and then immerse yourself in the writer’s work, and finally write a paper.
Knowing nothing about most of the choices, I picked John Crowe Ransom solely because I liked the sound of his name. I got lucky, because I discovered I enjoyed his work. Had I chosen Wallace Stevens with his difficult, cerebral verse, I probably would have flunked.
Another assignment was to prepare a notebook of our favorite poems. I remember making daring choices, including song lyrics by such radicals as Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. Now that Dylan as been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, I consider myself foresighted.
I was fortunate that Mr. Hagedorn approved of my choices. He was the cool, young teacher back then. He managed to fan the flames of inspiration and love for poetry. They smoldered for years, flaming up now and then, and have finally started burning here in this blog.
The leaves, the leaves are gone except the oak, Which cling to trees and rattle needlessly. The others flame and fall for all to see. They streak and sizzle, leaving only smoke. But oak leaves hang as by some unseen yoke, All browned and curled awaiting sympathy, Or sap to course and lend vitality — The leaves cannot perceive the sorry joke. For spring will end the lie and they will drop, To drift and rot and turn in time to dust. As sure as buds will burst to make a crop Of new, the old will flutter down — they must. The falling leaves like lovers never stop. It’s hardly gentle, but ’tis just, ’tis just.