For thousands of years
others have walked this grey shore,
crows scolding them, too.
For thousands of years
others have walked this grey shore,
crows scolding them, too.
THE PASSIONATE WRITER TO HIS LOVE
Come live with me and be my love,
Assured before you voice your fears
That we will meld as hand to glove
With tender wearing through the years.
How could I love another more,
Or ever you abandon me?
So come, our prospects let’s explore
Assay our hopes in honesty.
I’ll write old-fashioned poems for you,
The kind that sing with foot and rhyme,
To soothe your ear and gently woo
Your cautious heart in its due time.
We’ll stay abed when springtime rains,
And care not if it’s ever done;
We’ll pedal wooded country lanes,
And bask beneath a merry sun.
In lilac-time I’ll break for you
The heart-shaped leaf and purple bloom
That flourished when our love was new,
And filled the night with strong perfume.
Like hardy husbandmen of old,
Who ploughed and tilled the fertile soil,
We’ll give ourselves to labors bold,
And harvest children for our toil.
And when the winter of our years
Bespecks our thinning hair with snow,
We’ll stoke our fire against the fear,
Companions though the chill winds blow.
Relentless time moves on apace,
Time leaves its vanquished under stone.
But we can win at time’s own race
By choosing not to run alone.
Defying reason, let’s unite
To form a sturdy three-fold cord,
A braid miraculously tight,
Of bridegroom, bride and gentle Lord.
If my proposal your love stirs,
If this be your desire for life,
If to my faith your heart avers,
Come live with me and be my wife.
Thankfully, sometimes love DOES work out.
After some bump and bruises, I finally found the love of my life. Thirty-three years ago I wrote her a poem. Not leaving anything to chance, I shameless ripped off the first line from Christopher Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love.” The rest was mine.
It may not have been wholly original poetry, but it did the trick. She said “yes.”
The funny thing is … soon after that I wound up practicing direct marketing copywriting as my day job.
After my experience with this poem, I should have known I was destined for direct marketing. The poem was my very first direct marketing letter.
I got a 100% response rate. Retention has been solid, and long-term value excellent.
Thank you, Christopher Marlowe.
I saw you first in jonquil time,
When you were bathed in grace.
You sat aglow with fire sublime,
And golden shone your face.
I loved you first in lilac time.
A bloom I plucked for you.
I wrote you verse with song and rhyme.
I hoped you loved me too.
I kissed you first in tulip time,
It must have been a sign.
The buds and we were in our prime
When your two lips met mine.
I married you in daisy time
On summer’s longest day.
We traded rings and heard bells chime.
We pledged always to stay.
Too soon we’ve come to aster time.
The days are shorter now.
Would stealing some be such a crime?
We’ll make it right somehow.
Should we endure ’til wintertime,
The time when flowers sleep,
Dreams we’ll share of a gentler clime
Where we no more shall weep.
Notes: A bit of controversy arose when I last posted this poem. The object of this verse pointed out to me that tulip time generally comes before lilac time, and thus the poem was out of chronological order.
My appeal to poetic license did not, I feel, fully satisfy her. But I have resisted the pressure to revise the poem to make it more consistent to botanical facts. That’s because my recollection of the events of so many years ago was that I was completely and hopelessly in love before the first kiss.
Sometimes we should not allow the facts to get in the way of a good story.
And I did stop by the roadside and pick some lilacs for our first date.
With the release of the new move, “A Wrinkle in Time,” writer Madeleine L’Engle has come back into the cultural consciousness. Her Newbery award-winning book was first published when I was at an impressionable age, and helped fuel both my imagination and love of reading.
I haven’t seen the movie, but I understand that despite a strong cast headed by Oprah Winfrey, it is not doing particularly well at the box office. As I write this it has a long way to go to earn back the more than $100 million it took to produce.
L’Engle’s book was criticized for its liberal treatment of religious themes back in the 1960s. Ironically, this year’s movie has been criticized for not sticking closely enough to the book and watering it down its Christian references even further.
But I digress.
Today, in one of my used bookstore haunts, I was intrigued to discover a slender book of verse by L’Engle, entitled “The Weather of the Heart.” I hadn’t realized she also had written poetry.
And what a discovery! Chock full of verse about wonder and love and death and faith.
But the one that really jumped out at me was all too human, and startling in its honesty. Written to her husband while they were apart, it recounted an affair averted. It’s hard to say just how close she came, but because the poem is so honest, it results in a reaffirmation and celebration of fidelity.
It helps to understand the poem to know that L’Engle’s husband, Hugh Franklin, was a stage and television actor.
L’Engle’s poem doesn’t seem to be published on the internet, so I will set it down for you here. It is inspiring on many levels.
In what, love, does fidelity consist?
I will be true to you of course.
My body’s needs I can resist,
Come back to you without remorse.
And you, behind the footlight’s lure,
Kissing an actress on the stage,
Will leave her presence there, I’m sure,
As I my people on the page.
And yet–I love you, darling, yet
I sat with someone at a table
And gloried in our minds that met
As sometimes stranger’ minds are able
To leap the bound of times and spaces
And find, in sharing wine and bread
And light in one another’s faces
And in the words that each has said
An intercourse so intimate
It shook me deeply, to the core,
I said good-night, for it was late,
We parted at my hotel door
And I went in, turned down the bed
And took my bath and thought of you
Leaving the theatre with light tread
And going off, as you should do,
To rest, relax, and eat and talk–
And I lie there and wonder who
Will wander with you as you walk
and what you both will say and do …
We may not love in emptiness,
We married in a peopled place;
The vows we made enrich and bless
The smile on every stranger’s face.
And all the years that we have spent
Give the job that makes me able
To love and laugh with sacrament
Across a strange and distant table.
No matter where I am, you are,
We two are one and bread is broken
And laughter shared both near and far
Deepens the promises once spoken
And strengthens our fidelity
Although I cannot tell you how,
But I rejoice in mystery
And rest upon our marriage vows.
One of my literary-minded friends has introduced me to the America poet Hayden Carruth, who lived from 1921 to 2008.
I’m not sure how I could have gone so long and gotten so old without finding him. (Just another example of the gaping holes in my education, I guess.)
Carruth is growing on me.
Like Robert Frost, he moved to the Vermont countryside and learned to how to farm. Carruth’s poems about some of his country neighbors are vivid, precise character sketches that remind me of the country folk I knew in my youth.
Like Frost, Carruth did a bit of teaching to help pay the bills. He was aware of the looming shadow Frost cast over later Vermont poets, and he played with it a bit in some of his poems.
But he seems to be ornerier than Frost. And more down to earth. He seems to be a common man. But a wicked smart, extremely well-read common man.
He dwells at that intersection between classic poets from an earlier age who paid attention to meter and rhyme, and the moderns of the last century, who reveled in the free innovation for the sake of innovation.
His poem, Late Sonnet, written later in his life, is one of his most interesting, I’ve read yet.
by Hayden Carruth
For that the sonnet no doubt was my own true
singing and suchlike other song, for that
I gave it up half cold-heartedly to set
my lines in a fashion that proclaimed its virtue
original in young arrogant artificers who
had not my geniality nor voice and yet
their fashionableness was persuasive to me,–what
shame and sorrow I pay!
And that I knew
that beautiful hot old man Sidney Bechet
and heard his music often but not what he
was saying, that tone, phrasing, and free play
of feeling mean more than originality,
these being the actual qualities of song.
Nor is it essential to be young.
I read this as the confession of a poet who abandoned the craft he knew in his youth to pursue the fashionable trends of modern style. He contrasts the pretentiousness of modern poets — the “arrogant artificers” — with the pure horn playing of jazzman Sidney Bechet, who — according to Carruth — emphasized feeling over originality.
Carruth developed this idea more fully in an interview published in Contemporary Authors.
“When I was young and starting to write poetry seriously and to investigate the resources of modern poetry, as we called it then, we still felt beleaguered; modern poetry was still considered outrageous by most of the people in the publishing business and in the reading audience at large.
“We still spoke in terms of the true artists and the philistines. We felt that if we could get enough people to read T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens and e. e. cummings and William Carlos Williams and other great poets of that period, then something good would happen in American civilization. We felt a genuine vocation, a calling, to try and make this happen. And we succeeded. Today thousands of people are going to colleges and attending workshops and taking courses in twentieth-century literature.
“Eliot and Stevens are very well known, very well read; and American civilization has sunk steadily, progressively, further and further down until most of the sensible people are in a state of despair. It’s pretty obvious that good writing doesn’t really have very much impact on social events or national events of any kind. We hope that it has individual impact, that readers here and there are made better in some way by reading our work. But it’s a hope; we have no proof.”
Carruth has helped me put my finger on what has bugged me about so much of modern poetry for a long time. I couldn’t quite define it until now. But after reading this, it has come into focus.
In the secular despair of the 20th Century, artists sought to take the place of God, who had been declared dead by the wise men of the age.
As Carruth said, “if we could get enough people to read T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens and e. e. cummings and William Carlos Williams and other great poets of that period, then something good would happen in American civilization.”
Cultural restoration through poetry! Moral improvement through exposure to art.
The divine revelation of the Bible had been debunked courtesy of Darwin and Freud and others, faith had been undermined, and the vacuum that was created was seeking to fill itself with the work of artists and poets.
I would submit that this is much too big an assignment for poetry.
Don’t get me wrong. I hold a pretty high view of poetry. It can do a lot. It can inspire, comfort and bless a soul. It can express rich and deep feeling in elevated language. But I think the artistes of the last century reached too far.
My hypothesis is that this poetic overreach was responsible for much mischief — and a lot of unreadable poetry in the 20th Century.
Lest you think I am making this up, Stevens was explicit about his intention to replace God with poetry.
According to Poetry Foundation, Stevens maintained that art was “the new deity in a theologically deficient age. Abstraction is necessary, Stevens declares, because it fosters the sense of mystery necessary to provoke interest and worship from humanity.”
I find Stevens’ abstraction cold and heartless — and frankly boring.
I disagree with his premise and his conclusion. Just because Stevens didn’t believe in God didn’t mean that God was dead. (Please note: this theory is still under construction.)
If God is not dead, then poetry does not need to strive to be something it is not. It does not need to replace divine revelation. Since God is not dead, poetry can slip comfortably back into its proper role.
The poet can cease stop trying to take the place of God and settle back into the role of a human created in the image of God, creating beauty that reflects the beauty of God and his creation. And also telling the truth about the tragedy of how the creation has fallen.
Feel free to check out the blog for some decidedly un-modern poetry…
A Short Philosophical Love Note
Of what does missing consist?
(But first, know this, you are missed.)
It could be the lack of tender attack –
You see, I’ve missed getting kissed.
It might be like a disease
That only your treatment can ease.
The symptoms persist and although I resist
I wind up down on my knees.
It’s metaphysical tricks –
That’s strange, I know, but it sticks –
What else could explain the internal pain
When my heart my law contradicts.
It could be all in the mind,
If mental’s the way we’re designed.
But wishing you were does not make you here –
That’s truth of a different kind.
Who plumbs the depths of the soul?
And who knows the depth of the hole
Gouged when a lover heads for safe cover,
Exacting outrageous toll?
NOTES: When I headed off to college, my long-suffering father advised me to study “something practical.” He suspected that I was likely to squander my opportunity at getting the education he never had the chance to acquire.
It might have been my hair, which had not been cut since the end of football season. It might have been his knowledge that I was not the type of kid who listened to his elders.
So, of course, I went straight ahead and majored in philosophy with a minor in Greek and Latin.
And, also of course, the universe proved my father right. Upon graduation I entered the job market and landed a coveted job as fry cook at a pancake house.
It was the only job I could get.
I had gravitated towards philosophy because I wanted to find answers to the big questions of life. I wanted to find Truth, Beauty and Love, and thought that philosophy was the route.
I didn’t find the answers I sought in philosophy. Instead, I grew weary of hairsplitting arguments and arcane debates about the meaning of language.
By my senior year, I was tired of the whole enterprise.
But I did find truth in a most unsuspected place. Not in the heavy and thick books of philosophical and impenetrable prose. But in a dusty old Bible, the same Bible my father had been pointing me towards all my life.
Ironically, not only was my father right about studying something practical, he turned out to be right about where to find truth as well.
But off at college, I experienced my own personal John Newton/Saul of Tarsus moment.
Like the notorious English slave trader, I realized I had been blind about my own wretchedness.
Like the self-righteous Pharisee, I was knocked to the ground and scales fell from my eyes.
Like both of them, I was touched by grace and set on a new path with a completely fresh start.
After searching for truth in the ancient writings of Socrates and Plato, and seeking power in the seductive teachings of the East, I discovered that the truth I sought had been under my nose all the time.
But now that I had found truth, I still had to figure out what to do with my life. I was a decent short order cook, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t my calling.
I finally hit on the idea that I needed to do something that involved writing. And in those days in the afterglow of Watergate, this meant journalism. So I went back to school to take just enough classes to land a newspaper job.
We all wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein.
I was delighted when I landed my first freelance stringer assignment. I drove to City Hall, spent 3 hours at a city council meeting, drove back home and then spent another 4 or 5 hours writing up as many stories as I could. The next morning, I drove the finished copy to the office.
I was delighted that for this they’d pay me a whole 15 bucks! And if one of the stories was decent, I might get a treasured byline.
What I didn’t realize was that the newspaper business had already started its long, slow decline. By the early 1980s, afternoon dailies were already going out of business all across the U.S.
Newsrooms were shrinking and it was tough to get on with a major metropolitan paper. And this was all before the internet cut the legs out from under newspapers’ business model.
Impatient with the career prospects at the big papers, I took a job as the editor of a financial newsletter.
(Had I been a better investigative journalist, I would have discovered that this publication had nothing to do with reporting objective truth. Instead, it was the front-end lead generator for a rare coin and precious metals dealer. It was really a direct marketing enterprise.)
But things worked out, and that first direct marketing job eventually led me to doing fundraising for good causes, which has been my career for the past quarter century.
But for several years — before I found the love of my life and the mother of my children — my love life followed the same tragic-comic early trajectory as my circuitous career path.
Full of false starts and spectacular missteps.
After one of these disasters, many years ago, I wrote the poem posted today.
It’s about the only thing I have to show today for my philosophy major.
“We’ll Sell No Wine”
“We’ll sell no wine before its time,” we’re told.
The fat and famous spokesman made it clear,
Each vintage has its period of gold.
(You must assess the pressing and the year.)
So, likewise, for each vintage comes a time
The point past which there’s no return at all.
Decay and oxidation work their crime,
And turn your sweetest nectar into gall.
So come, my dear, what are we waiting for?
Our cellar holds a few more bottles still.
Pick one and brush away the dust before
Time turns its contents back to must — time will.
Cast off our caution and our clothes and pour,
And drink with joy until we’ve had our fill.
Notes: The news lately has been filled with dreadful reports: mass shootings in Las Vegas, bombings in far-away lands, vile behavior by the powerful of Hollywood.
Because I know that mankind is fallen, I have no confidence in “human nature.” But my innate positive outlook this week has been shaken.
When the week began, I learned that the son of a friend and former colleague had been one of the wounded in the Las Vegas mass shooting. He had been a law enforcement officer for over 20 years and had never been shot, nor shot anyone in the line of duty.
And then he was shot in the neck and shoulder while he was attending a country music concert.
Thankfully, he survived and is on the mend today, and should be okay.
Then, the news about the Hollywood sexual abuse scandal broke. My Facebook feed has been filled not only lurid stories of the rich and famous, but heartbreaking firsthand accounts from women I know who have suffered in silence from heinous actions of abusers.
The sheer amount of #me too is overwhelming.
Evil is real and more common than we want to admit.
One particularly poignant series of posts has made me reassess my own hometown experience.
I’ve written glowingly about my childhood and my hometown and my education.
As I have processed the new information, I must admit that — depending on where you stood — my hometown could have been more Twin Peaks than Mayberry RFD.
There was stuff going on back there that I had no idea about.
So, in the face of horror and dread, I will resort to a place of solace and peace.
I will celebrate love, and marriage, and monogamy.
I will seek to find meaning and comfort in order and rhyme and meter.
When the society and the culture seems to be disintegrating, I will look to the good examples I have in my life and celebrate faithfulness and honor and love.
I really don’t know what else to do.
I’m old enough to remember when Orson Welles became a television pitchman for a sort-of-good American wine.
Welles had been the genius who panicked the nation in 1938 with his faux-documentary radio broadcast, “War of the Worlds.” In 1941, he directed and starred in “Citizen Kane,” considered to be among the best — if not the best film of all time.
By the late 1970s, Welles was making commercials. His Paul Masson spots are still classics.
“We will sell no wine before its time,” was a magnificent slogan.