When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d – Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman Walt Whitman – Wikipedia … 1819 – 1892
Abraham Lincoln – Abraham Lincoln – Wikipedia – 1809 – 1865

Considering the death of the famous and words from poets. Looking at the sixteen sections from the famous Walt Whitman poem When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, written after the assignation of Abraham Lincoln. It is a very lengthy poem but nonetheless it is a fitting tribute to the life of Abraham Lincoln.

The first section

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

That great guiding star in the heavens has disappeared.

It is spring in Australia and a time of renewal after winter. And although there is always grief spring is the eternal birth. The return point after winter. Mourning will fade and be brightened by spring flowering. Abraham Lincoln died in April in America at the equivalent springtime of the year.

And the second section

O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.

The ‘O’ lamentation lines are like hyperbole bible text. And the power of grief is often equated to the power of the love of the departed. A question, how long does it take to start to see the spring flowering; well, that’s always an individual affair.

Sections three and four are appreciation of spring in terms of the lilac bush and a solitary thrush. The spring blooming of the lilac trigger memory of the death of Lincoln. He died in April in New York. These two sections are descriptive of the time of year. The now that draws away from the now to thoughts on the life and death of Lincoln. And in future years there will be our personal triggers that remind us of the death of the Queen. At the time of the coronation as a small boy I was standing at Winchfield Station in Hampshire as our family, along with many, waited for the Queen to travel through by train to London.

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.
In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die.)

But section five is all about the coffin travelling by train through America. And here we see contrast between birth and death. It is spring in Canberra and the annual flower festival ‘Floriade’ is about to open. It is quite a contrast to the autumn happenings in the UK as the funeral service for the Queen approaches.

Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris,
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the endless grass,
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprisen,
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards,
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.

And in section six the shroud of black as the populace recognises the passing coffin. And Walt Whitman simply offers a sprig of lilac.

Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veil’d women standing,
With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn,
With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—where amid these you journey,
With the tolling tolling bells’ perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.

And in section seven the coffin covered over by flowers becomes death itself covered by flowers.

(Nor for you, for one alone,
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring,
For fresh as the morning, thus would I chant a son
 for you O sane and sacred death.

All over bouquets of roses,
O death, I cover you over with roses and early lilies,
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
Copious I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes,
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you and the coffins all of you O death.)

And section eight takes up again the falling star in the west to be akin to the loss of Lincoln.

O western orb sailing the heaven,
Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walk’d,
As I walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop’d from the sky low down as if to my side, (while the other stars all look’d on,)
As we wander’d together the solemn night, (for something I know not what kept me from sleep,)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe,
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night,
As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where you sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.

While this is happening there is interruption by the song of the thrush detailed in section nine.  But the falling star takes precedence.

Sing on there in the swamp,
O singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear your call,
I hear, I come presently, I understand you,
But a moment I linger, for the lustrous star has detain’d me,
The star my departing comrade holds and detains me.

Section ten is the personal response to that of the thrush with an appropriate pause after the first three lines.

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?

Sea-winds blown from east and west,
Blown from the Eastern sea and blown from the Western sea, till there on the prairies meeting,
These and with these and the breath of my chant,
I’ll perfume the grave of him I love.

And in section elven the hanging picture on the wall of Walt Whitman’s remembrance is that from the train journey of the coffin. And the train journey is quite extensive compared to the flight from Edinburgh to London of the Queen’s coffin.


O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?

Pictures of growing spring and farms and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air,
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific,
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there,
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows,
And the city at hand with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.

And section twelve considers the setting of the sun in his home city of New York. And there is a change of mood – the coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars. The start of a transformation of thought taking place, from sadness to joy.

Lo, body and soul—this land,
My own Manhattan with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships,
The varied and ample land, the South and the North in the light, Ohio’s shores and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies cover’d with grass and corn.

Lo, the most excellent sun so calm and haughty,
The violet and purple morn with just-felt breezes,
The gentle soft-born measureless light,
The miracle spreading bathing all, the fulfill’d noon,
The coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.

In thirteen the departed star, the song of the thrush and the perfume from lilac still have that death remembered hold.

Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird,
Sing from the swamps, the recesses, pour your chant from the bushes,
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

Sing on dearest brother, warble your reedy song,
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

O liquid and free and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul—O wondrous singer!
You only I hear—yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart,)
Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me.

Section fourteen is a long contemplation that marries the beauty of the universe to the nature of death. And there is an associated joy – come lovely and soothing death. And this is recognised in the song of the thrush – I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death.

Now while I sat in the day and look’d forth,
In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and the farmers preparing their crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds and the storms,)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides, and I saw the ships how they sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages,
And the streets how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent—lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me,
The gray-brown bird I know receiv’d us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held as if by their hands my comrades in the night,
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.

Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love—but praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.

Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all,
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach strong deliveress,
When it is so, when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss O death.

From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose saluting thee, adornments and feastings for thee,
And the sights of the open landscape and the high-spread sky are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night in silence under many a star,
The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I know,
And the soul turning to thee O vast and well-veil’d death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song,
Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the prairies wide,
Over the dense-pack’d cities all and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death.

Section fifteen gives respect to the soldiers that died to secure the union of the United States. A legacy to the great life of Abraham Lincoln. Their suffering is over and they live on in memory.

To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept u
 the gray-brown bird,
With pure deliberate notes spreading filling the night.

Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist and the swamp-perfume,
And I with my comrades there in the night.

While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.

And I saw askant the armies,
I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags,
Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierc’d with missiles I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody,
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken.

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer’d not,
The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

Section sixteen culminates with the ‘lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of soul’. A thankyou in appreciation of life and death in terms of those three triggers.

Passing the visions, passing the night,
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands,
Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of my soul, 
Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,
Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves,
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring.

I cease from my song for thee,
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.

Yet each to keep and all, retrievements out of the night,
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star with the countenance full of woe,
With the holders holding my hand nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well,
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake,
Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

It happens all the time in heaven – Hafiz – Comments

It happens all the time in heaven

It happens all the time in heaven,
And some day It will begin to happen
Again on earth -

That men and women who are married,
And men and men who are Lovers,

And women and women who give each other Light,

Often get down on their knees and while 
So tenderly holding their lovers hand, with 
Tear-filled eyes will sincerely say, “My dear,
How can I be more loving to you; my darling, 
How can I be more kind?"

Hafiz Iran/Persia (1320 – 1389)
Translation by Daniel Ladinsky

See this site for more translations of Hafiz

Hafiz was a great fourteen century Persian poet and mystic revered in Iran to this day.

How to be humble and get down on your knees to respond to the one you love. To listen and hear the need in those you love. The poem asks a key question in the last line. The problem is how to respond and be more kind. Perhaps being kind may involve confronting the one you love to address a deeper need.

And I have always wondered whether Jesus gave the perfect response to those he met?

Hafiz on Wikipedia

The Third Body – Robert Bly – Analysis

The Third Body

A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do not long
at this moment to be older, or younger, nor born
in any other nation, or time, or place.
They are content to be where they are, talking or not talking.
Their breaths together feed someone whom we do not know.
The man sees the way his fingers move;
he sees her hands close around a book she hands to him.
They obey a third body that they share in common.
They have made a promise to love that body.
Age may come, parting may come, death will come.
A man and a woman sit near each other;
as they breathe they feed someone we do not know,
someone we know of, whom we have never seen.

Robert Bly (1926 – 2021)

This is a poem about an elderly couple sitting on a park bench just totally content in the moment not looking for anything else in life just happy to be together in their comfortable known self. Perhaps they have been married for many years and know each other intimately. So this is really a poem about love, love that has grown from long term companionship. And love exist in in their silence. Perhaps love can always be found in the silence of life that speaks to us continually.

Between then they are one body although a couple. They both share in the one book being held in their hands as it is passed between them. But they are connected to a third common body. And this is the question asked by the poem –

Their breaths together feed  – but who? And a very living body that needs them, feed appears in two lines
They obey a third body – but to whom is their allegiance? And a promise made
someone we know of –attributes known – heard about but never seen … who is the poet talking about?

Like or great poems there is no answer other than in the mind of the reader.

so what can this body be –
perhaps it is marriage itself
their heritage
family
perhaps life
love
the body of goodness
or maybe spiritual connections
the bigger unity withing existence
Jesus or even God

Going back to the couple on the bench and both hands together with the book. Why do you think a book was chosen? And how is the book significant in their relationship? What a difference if it was a ham sandwich.

But there is certainly a feeling that this third body is connected in some way to death. The couple are at that stage when death is on the radar. There is a comfortable feeling associated with this connection and they have added their own personal value to this Third Body throughout their lifetime. They are happy and at peace with the world.

Robert Bly on Wikipedia

In Jerusalem – Mahmoud Darwish – Analysis

In Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy,
because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself:
How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a
stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted: Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me ... and I forgot, like you, to die
Mahmoud Darwish
translated by Fady Joudah

Mahmoud Darwish was a Palestinian poet and author who was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. He won numerous awards for his works. Darwish used Palestine as a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile. According to the Internet he has been described as incarnating and reflecting ‘the tradition of the political poet in Islam, the man of action whose action is poetry’.

Born in a village near Galilee, Darwish spent time as an exile throughout the Middle East and Europe for much of his life. He was imprisoned in the 1960s for reading his poetry aloud while travelling from village to village without a permit. Under the influence of both Arabic and Hebrew literature, Darwish was exposed to the work of Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda through Hebrew translations.

‘In Jerusalem’ is considered one of his most important poems. Jerusalem is the centre city of the three religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And remains the centre of conflict on legitimacy over it. This poem was a popular response after Donald Trump supported Israel in making it capital.

Jerusalem is first depicted as the personification of love and peace (lines 1 -7). And then the rising-up from the ashes. A personal rising as well as the rising of Palestine. A forgetting of any past religious association – I walk from one epoch to another without a memory. A bathing in the pure light of the holy – all this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. The stone could refer to the Foundation Stone behind the ‘Wailing Wall’ which could be regarded as the fountain of all true light from God.

Then the transformation and transfiguration to a true state outside both time and place. The message from Isaiah that redemption is possible on belief. The white biblical rose has a flavour of Christianity and purity but there is no ascension and the reference is to the prophet Muhammad.

The poem ends with a return to Earth and the dramatic ending by a woman solider shouting: It’s you again? Didn’t I kill you? This is followed by that wonderful response – I said: You killed me … and I, forgot, like you, to die.

Death cannot destroy; and the survival of Palestine is inferred – or in fact life in general, whether Jew or Arab. A poem that transcends all the waring religious factions. Perhaps, in due time, Jerusalem will revert to the love and peace denoted in the opening lines.

Muhammad Darwish on Wikipedia

Frost at Midnight – Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Analysis

Frost at Midnight
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,

Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
                      But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger ! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger's face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!
         Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the intersperséd vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
         Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 - 1834)

S1 – The scene is Coleridge’s cottage at Nether Stowey in Somerset. The infant is his son Hartley when aged 17 months. He finds time to himself as other members of the household are in bed. But instead of devoting time to composition he is caught in appreciating the stillness and the dying state of the fire and this becomes his centre of attention and detracts from other considerations. He shares these thoughts in conversation with the reader. The busyness of the village is asleep and is an inaudible background like a dream.

The film is a piece of soot fluttering on the bar of the grate. The only thing that is alive. Coleridge noted that ‘In all parts of the Kingdom these films are called strangers and are supposed to portent the arrival of some absent friend’

S2 – The fluttering sound of the film is the only life around him in the stillness. It becomes his companion and a toy for his thoughts.

S3 – The film now represents the absent friend of his birthplace. Coleridge was born at Ottery St Mary, Devonshire but went to school at the age of nine in London after the death of his father. So, he now recalls the times when a child. In particular, he liked the music of the church bells – the poor mans only music. The ‘stern preceptor’ was the teacher Rev. James Boyer at Christ’s Hospital, London where Coleridge went to school. And when at school in London he would think back to his childhood in the village. He fondly recalled family and play mates at times when he should have been concentrating on school work. His sister and himself were both clothed alike.

S4 – Coleridge now spends his thoughts on appreciating the beauty of his baby son. And he hopes he will have the chance to spend much time with nature; lamenting the fact that he had a city life. This was not entirely true as his first nine years were in the country. And this might have had a profound endearing effect on this dissertation on his love of nature and the hope that his son will come to similar appreciation. And he identifies a strong spiritual link – Of that eternal language, which thy God Utters. A nice way to put it that nature is the language of God. And the stanza ends with recognition of the connection of God in the development of the human soul – Great universal Teacher! he shall mould / Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.


S5 – If his son has this understanding of nature therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee. He then identifies aspects of each season. He gives particular emphasis to winter and I do like the image of  the night-thatch / Smokes in the sun-thaw. And like the opening there is that word – ministry again.

Very appropriate given the emphasis on the spiritual link with nature.

For a thorough guide to this poem see the following Site.  – in the Poetry Foundation – Poem Guide

Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Wikipedia.

The Nature of Love – Rabindranath Tagore – Comments

The Nature of Love

The night is black and the forest has no end;
a million people thread it in a million ways.
We have trysts to keep in the darkness, but where
or with whom — of that we are unaware.
But we have this faith — that a lifetime’s bliss
will appear any minute, with a smile upon its lips.
Scents, touches, sounds, snatches of songs
brush us, pass us, give us delightful shocks.

Then peradventure there’s a flash of lightning:
whomever I see that instant I fall in love with.
I call that person and cry: ‘This life is blest!
For your sake such miles have I traversed!’
All those others who came close and moved off
in the darkness — I don’t know if they exist or not.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)

Tryst = secret romantic meeting

Here are my thoughts on this philosophic poem from this Indian prophet/poet master.

Love and nature go hand in hand for many regard the creation of the universe as being based on love. In that way it is a fitting link in the title.

Lines 1-4 … Life can be mysterious and likened to a forest where we transact with many as we live. Trysts imply romantic associations in our meetings with others. True that we never know who we are going to meet each day and that Christians are impelled to love others in life but not necessarily like them of course. But romantic love is something different so I have to come to terms in reconciling the tryst idea in transactions with others.

Lines 5-8 … Do we search for bliss over our lifetime? And do we have faith that we will eventually find this magical substance through living? Well the process of living gives snatches of delightful shock to the senses.

Lines 9-14 … I have broken this sonnet with a blank line for the last 6 lines give dramatic change from the bliss of human relationships to the wondrous flash spiritual encounter with love supreme. In other words you could say a mountain top experience of God. And ‘For your sake such miles have I traversed!’ implies that this gives meaning to life. And the sonnet ends stating that human relationships fade away and are not real in comparison – ‘I don’t know if they exist or not’.

The poem is a personal spiritual statement. How the reader relates to such is equally personal and based on individual life experience. A poem that engenders thought on our spiritual nature.

Rabindranath Tagore on Wikipedia

Summary info … Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7 May 1861 in Calcutta. He was India’s greatest modern poet and the most creative genius of the Indian Renaissance. Besides poetry, Tagore wrote songs (both the words and the melodies), short stories, novels, plays (in both prose and verse), essay on a wide range of topics including literary criticism, polemical writing, travelogues, memoirs and books for children. Apart from a few books containing lectures given abroad and personal letters to friends who did not read Bengali, the bulk of his voluminous literary output is in Bengali. Gitanjali (1912), Tagore’s own translation of the poetic prose from the Bengali Gitanjali (1910) won him the Nobel prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore died on 7 August 1941 in the family house in Calcutta where he was born.

It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free – Wordsworth – Comments

It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea;
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

William Wordsworth

Evenings always seem to be a special time of the day. And Wordsworth is totally absorbed in the beauty of the evening, breathless in adoration.

But this is a very special time for Wordsworth for he is in France walking the beach with his illegitimate daughter not seen since he left Paris at the time of the French Revolution. She would be about twelve years of age.

The lines …

                     Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
                     And doth with his eternal motion make
                     A sound like thunder—everlastingly

… obviously relate to the background of the sea … but Wordsworth is in reflective philosophical mode as he is stunned by the beauty of nature and equally the mighty Being could refer to the creator noting that Being is capitalised.

At the Volta the last six lines of the sonnet reflect on the nature of a child who is untouched by such thought. But none the less the child lies in the care of God though she may not know it. Reference is made to ‘Abraham’s bosom’ and a religious heritage of connectivity. Abraham being the common patriarch of three religions.

No matter the mental capacity of a person in an understanding God and independent of age God is there in a supportive role – especially for children. Well, I belief in a caring God for all. A great pillar of support to have such belief.

The Sabbath … is an ‘evening to evening’ observance … more details via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabbath_in_Christianity

However, there is nothing to stop us having a quiet holy time whenever in communication with God and creation – whether ‘a thank you for just the joy of life’ or for any other personal reason.

 

The Ash Plant – Seamus Heaney – Spirituality

The following poem by Seamus Heaney was written in memory of his cattle-farming father. He wrote it in 1986, two years after his father’s death, and four years after his mother’s.

The Ash Plant

He’ll never rise again but he is ready.
Entered like a mirror by the morning,
He stares out the big window, wondering,
Not caring if the day is bright or cloudy.

An upstairs outlook on the whole country.
First milk-lorries, first smoke, cattle, trees
In damp opulence above damp hedges –
He has it to himself, he is like a sentry

Forgotten and unable to remember
The whys and wherefores of his lofty station,
Wakening relieved yet in position,
Disencumbered as a breaking comber.

As his head goes light with light, his wasting hand
Gropes desperately and finds the phantom limb
Of an ash plant in his grasp, which steadies him.
Now he has found his touch he can stand his ground

Or wield the stick like a silver bough and come
Walking again among us: the quoted judge.
I could have cut a better man out of the hedge!
God might have said the same, remembering Adam.

Seamus Heaney

Carol Rumens the English poet selected this poem as one of her weekly selections. The following is a link to her detailed exploration of the above text. See https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/may/23/poem-of-the-week-the-ash-plant-by-seamus-heaney.

Included in that discussion is the following paragraph –

Five solid quatrains, the wonderfully effortless ABBA half-rhyme, a firm pentameter beat, and the emphasised cadence of numerous feminine line-endings: these building blocks have and contain the density of the real world, but they signify more. The father in the poem is waking up after his death, “Entered like a mirror by the morning.” He is uncertain, a new shade, unmoored from life but not far beyond it, like a sentry “unable to remember / The whys and wherefores of his lofty station” (as a sentry’s ghost might be perplexed in a Northern Ireland of future ceasefire). Then “his wasting hand” finds “the phantom limb” of the Ash Plant and “… he has found his touch and can stand his ground”. It’s a lovely image that suggests a frail old man in his later years taking up his stick and, in that moment, finding his balance and becoming sure on his feet, as if recovering a younger body. The shade is transfigured, and, light-filled, he gains full authority. And once again the son gently smiles at the father and teases him as “the quoted judge” for his dry comment, “I could have cut a better man out of the hedge!”

I mention this in particular because the second line ‘Entered like a mirror by the morning’ caught my imagination as a wonderful metaphor for the new life of a ‘shade’. A mirror can never tell us who we really are but on death Heaney implies a walking through the mirror to an understanding of a new self from the other side of the mirror. And then he suggests the generation of a spiritual presence in on-going life as a ‘sentry’.

You can imagine Heaney’s Father in the top bedroom of an old farmhouse looking out over his life’s endeavour and being proud of what he has achieved over the years. The ‘damp opulence’ is an appropriate choice of words. Damp and Ireland are synonymous and opulence is such a good choice (compare to wealth). And here he is being reborn to this environment taking his first tentative steps from on high. It is interesting that he needs the support of the Ash Plant. Rod and Staff and Psalm 23 come to mind. But can he protect the future on the way the land will change as the years unfold. It would be somewhat poetic to think that he had some on-going influence as a ‘shade’.

I think there is a sense of humour in the statement – ‘I could have cut a better man out of the hedge!’. To me it implies that he could have done better. And to suggest that God could have done better is quite entertaining.

The literary significance of the Ash Plant is discussed in detail by Carol Rumens.

It is a very interesting poem showing Seamus Heaney had a somewhat mystical thinking on a resurrection and an after-life.