Stoic

I searched the history of grass,
Beneath hawk-shadows blowing past.

I learned the timelessness of stone;
Saw forest-flesh and forest-bone
Reach briefly up, go swiftly down,
Crash in green, dissolve to brown.

Taught by decay and schooled by molder,
I can turn a stoic shoulder
To beauty spiking searching eyes
And breasts defenselessly unwise.

Against impermanence I lock
My soul, confiding it to rock.

—Frances M. Frost (1905–1959), “Stoic,” Hemlock Wall, 1929

A curious glimmering thing

“Time has proved that the function of poetry is not to impart messages, but to explore the depths of emotion.

The poet is never a teacher, but always a learner. His poem is a venture at perilous discovery. The fact of writing is not the recording of something already known to the poet; it is his method of bringing to the light things that were previously in darkness for him.

The aim of poetry is to capture those rare moments of the poet’s experience when, for good or for evil, the consciousness of life sweeps through him like a flame… the moments when he becomes passionately aware of the crises of his spirit’s secret drama, and sees a pattern taking shape in the void, and words of utterance come singing to his lips.

Out of that dizzy instant he emerges, bewildered but excitedly hopeful, bringing with him his poem. Here, he says, is a curious glimmering thing that I discovered far down in the sea of my dimly conscious spirit:  perhaps it will have a fascination for you, too; perhaps you, too, will see in its pale sphere some hint of the iridescent lights that played on its surface when in those vast deeps I found it.”

—Arthur Davison Ficke (1883–1945), “The Nature of Poetry,” 1926

I Vowed that I Would Be a Tree

I vowed that I would be a tree.
      I went up to an oak and said,
“What shall I do that I might be
A beech, an oak, or any tree,
      With branches leafing from my head?”

There was a sound of sap that ran,
      There was a wind of leaves that spoke.
“So you would cease to be a man,
And be a green tree, if you can,
      A pine, a beech, an oak?”

I answered, “I am tired of men,
      As tired as they of me.
I fain would not return again
To the perplexity of men,
      But straightway be a tree.”

There was a sound of winds that went
      To summon every oldest tree,
To hold their austere Parliament
About the thing had craved to be
      Elect of their calm company.

There was a sound of bursting tide,
      There was a wash of clanging foam,
A crumbling shore, a bursting tide.
There came a thunder that outcried,
      “Go, wretched mortal, get thee home!

“Who art thou that would be a tree,
      Least of the weeds that shoot and pass?
Bide till a Wisdom come, and see
Before a mortal be a tree,
      He first must be a blade of grass!”

—Louis Golding (1895–1958), Sorrow of War, 1919

I Prepare to Face Fifty

      “I am middle-aged. Fifty is upon me. And I am faced by a grim reaper. But it is not youth I want. It is time. And there’s too little left. What shall I do about it? Shall I waste these remaining years on people who bore me, squander them on employments that satisfy no desires, sacrifice them to the ideas of others? No. I have wasted hours upon hours on nothing but waiting, days upon days on routine that led nowhere, and a tally of weeks on nonsense and so-called diversion.

      “I had an idea that in middle age somehow I should reach a hill and beyond it would lie a promised land. Enough merely to be climbing up. Suddenly now I realize the crown of that hill is age fifty. And I know that if there is a promised land it has got to be in front of me. If I don’t find it now I never shall. So I had better face this fifty, acknowledge it is gone — whether squandered or treasured — forever, and plan what to do with this promised land, how to spend these last precious years left to me.

      “From the brow of that fifty hill, suddenly I am beginning to compute time. Do I wish to spend so much of it in my remaining years on the pursuit of youthful looks, on this cult of youth? Perhaps I am a miser with my years, but I must confess that I can no longer see value received from pursuing youth. It will bring me no higher price for my work. It will make my husband no fonder; for affection after fifty rests on something other than complexion. It will not add to my emotional satisfaction nor to the pleasures of my mind. No, I shall not waste any of my remaining years on the pursuit of smooth pink cheeks. Nor will I waste my time or worry with weight, counting calories, or other such psychological-gastronomic engagements!

      “Frankly, I do not feel the same as I did twenty years ago. Moreover, I do not want to feel the same. These new feelings — may they not be an asset instead of a liability? I will not be satisfied if my remaining years are a mere repetition of those that have gone before. I want something different. I will not spend this time in an effort to produce an illusion to myself. I will be content to look my age, to dress my age, to live my age. I will appreciate all that life has brought me. I will face fifty cheerfully.

      “Do not take this to mean that I am negating its challenges. Fifty does not mean freedom from family demands nor from the things that we are tied to by duty. Fifty brings no alchemy that enables one to plan one’s life as one might try an uncharted sea. We will always have personal and financial limitations, and we can only alter our course according to the wheel in our hands, the craft under us, the shoals and currents around us. But what we may do is decide which direction to steer and how to get the maximum of enjoyment in the steering.

      “I must be economical of time. Each day must count. I must plan for the satisfaction that is possible here, now. In youth, always before us was that will-o’-the-wisp, perfection, because there was always the hope of time to reach it. That it was always to be to-morrow did not affect our attitude of mind — that of preparing, improving, developing. But gradually it has been made plain to me that this to-morrow will never come, that as I am to-day so shall I be twenty years from now. Yes, I may improve or grow in that time, but it will be along the line already laid out — I shall not change my style, my type, my talk. In the difference between acceptance of this fact and the belief that ‘all things are possible’ lies the difference between thirty and fifty, between youth and middle-age. To those of my contemporaries who still look for the Prince to ride up and disclose a crown beneath his fedora, who still expect pumpkins to turn to coaches, this seems a tragic difference.

      “May the acceptance of the truth of fifty bring its own joys. No longer do I need to pretend. I may say things frankly. I can accept myself as middle-aged, and therefore enjoy myself. I can squeeze the utmost out of what I am and what I have. I can relax from the struggle. I shall no longer punish myself. Instead of competing, I can create. I may choose what I like, including the colors that please me — that do something to my brain, if not indeed to my soul — rather than attempting to express the best in taste and fashion. No longer do I need to try to take everything as it comes, but select what I want. And please understand:  I am not retiring — I am attaining.”

—Emily Newell Blair (1877–1951), “I Prepare to Face Fifty,” 1926, abridged

Rippling

in nature i am
water in the breeze
going with the flow

in society i thrash
every cell halting
resistance grows
i become boulder
thrown off cliffs
accelerating through
no choice of my own
landing hard
splitting open
shattering into
everything wrong

—Terri Guillemets