Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Muddling through," E.M. Forster called it– a good thing

I turned 72 yesterday. That struck me as pretty old, though I am blessed with good health and more than reasonable physical vigor. Understandably, I have been meditating on what I have learned and have not in seven decades, and for whatever reason, the fact that I feel I know less now than I ever did feels right and oddly comforting. This poem had been a-borning a while, and that feeling helped push it through a complete draft.  

                    I Impugn a Victorian                       


 There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he 
takes up a pen to write.                                                                                                                              –William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)         

Or within a woman.  Or maybe

Old Thackeray was delusionary, yearning

To believe that, simply by being a writer, he could write

And thoughts just show up. It’s been far too long since I read

About his Becky Sharp and others for me to judge if in fact they do

Arrrive in his Vanity Fair or elsewhere in this eminent Victorian’s work.

Maybe he’s only vain. But I also yearn to believe.

I read that quotation somewhere and I jotted it down 

Because its words must have spoken to something inside me.

That is, now that I take up the pen’s contemporary replacement–

Now that I write, their gist will reveal itself as, well, perhaps not thought

Precisely, but as subject or theme that will ring somewhat true. At least I hope so.

Or, on a better day, if you’ll forgive my presumption, 

It may even instruct. How long, however, dear William,

Must I keep composing these lines without any deliberation

Before the thoughts you speak of supervene? I’ll settle for one.

It’s exacting to keep all this up, dimly expecting some higher level
Of mental engagement as, meanwhile, the feeder by our window teems

With the same old, but delightful, birds of winter:

Redpoll, pine siskin, minuscule brown creeper, nuthatch,

The usual horde of chickadees, a tufted titmouse, hairy and downy

Woodpeckers, and now and again, to the alerter birds’ consternation,

And mine –though I confess its beauty also thrills me– a sharp-shinned hawk.

Fixed on murder, he skulks in the high bare limbs of that paper birch until it stoops

Upon some pygmy victim, or, more curiously,

Merely perches there, declining to dive and wreak

Its hell and havoc. Your comments have made no peace in my mind,

Mr. Makepeace. I took you at your word and here I am, less far in fact along

Thought’s avenue than I was at the beginning.  I’ve been pressing and prosing ahead

For five desultory stanzas now, and I must conclude, since I must move toward conclusion,

That like so much of life as I have known it,

All but the tiniest portion of this time has consisted of waiting

Without a clue. Not of course that there aren’t a lot of much worse

Concerns to fret about than my bemusement. I haven’t yet gone down

To the village store to fetch the newspaper, doubtless full of instances of such

Worse things. But meanwhile: Look at all these birds– so vivid, brilliant, scribbling

Their eloquent little marks there on the snow,

Even the ones without a clue they’re close to death.

                                                                                                            for Bob Demott

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