The Poet, II

My body was once a beautiful house of marble,
Kissed to pale rose by the passionate heat of the sun,
Wherein through cunning channels flowed forever
Health-giving crimson blood in steady tides.

My eyes were then quick to see and to welcome beauty,
My lips smiled often with gratified desire,
My hands shook not, but were fit for caress or grapple,
My arms rose and my body moved in strength.

Then not a single line of any poem
Had my hands raped from my brain, but untouched and pure
They abode in the land of distant visions where no man
Heard my voice calling for them at eventide.

My blood lies in great black lakes now, sluggish and frozen,
Or fumes in like some boiling, stinging, poison brew
Till it suddenly stops in a lassitude unspoken,
Or bursts through my pores and covers me with red dew:

My eyes are bleared now and dull with sleepless midnights,
My lips are shrunken purses—their gold is spent,
My hands unsteadily clutch and paw and tremble,
My arms are as strings of macaroni bent.

And as for my chest, ’tis like a leaky air-box
Fixed to some cheap melodeon out of tune,
The bellows creak, the loose and brown keys rattle,
And the music that comes is like a dog’s sick moan.

But in my brain there seethes an adulterous hotchpotch
Of poems clean and disgusting, mad and sage;
And pain, like a dry fire, keeps them ever a-boiling
Till they splash over and blacken some wasted page.

Yes, I am a poet now to be mocked and applauded,
A turnspit that turns and must never taste the meat:
Behold how great I am, but I wait for a greater,
Even Death, who will silence the march of these crippled feet.

—John Gould Fletcher (1886–1950), “The Poet, II,” Fire and Wine, 1913

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

Leaden Echo & Golden Echo

THE LEADEN ECHO

How to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep

Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty,… from vanishing away?

Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankèd wrinkles deep,

Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?

No there ’s none, there ’s none, O no there ’s none,

Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,

Do what you may do, what, do what you may,

And wisdom is early to despair:

Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done

To keep at bay

Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,

Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;

So be beginning, be beginning to despair.

O there ’s none; no no no there ’s none:

Be beginning to despair, to despair,

Despair, despair, despair, despair.

THE GOLDEN ECHO

         Spare!

There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);

Only not within seeing of the sun,

Not within the singeing of the strong sun,

Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air,

Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,

One. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,

Where whatever ’s prized and passes of us, everything that ’s fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,

Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet

Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,

The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,

Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth

To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!

Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,

Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—

Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,

And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver

Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death

Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.

See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair

Is, hair of the head, numbered.

Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould

Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,

This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold

What while we, while we slumbered.

O then, weary then whý should we tread? O why are we so haggard at the heart, so care-coiled, care-killed, so fagged, so fashed, so cogged, so cumbered,

When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,

Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept

Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder

A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—

Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes, yonder, yonder,

Yonder.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889), “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo,” maidens’ song from the unfinished tragedy St. Winefred’s Well, in Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, now first published, edited and with notes by Robert Bridges, 1918

I accept you

Okay — I give in — I accept you — Middle Age
I am tired — I want to sit down — unrushed —
to read — and drink hot tea — and — Breathe
the number of years behind me — and ahead of me —
no longer concern me — mathematically or emotionally
I have come to rest in the sturdy arms of the Present —
where Time has been waiting for me — my whole Life

—Terri Guillemets