Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Night journey

"Boulder Beach" in South Africa.
Photograph courtesy of sxc.hu and Nick Holdstock of the UK.

Imagine (or be) yourself at ninety. Imagine you are a poet, still crafting poems. How lovely that your gift hasn't ebbed and drained away!

Sometimes you beat out the ones many decades younger...  As here, where you take up simplicity in a poem of longing for your wife, your helpmeet and your love for 65 years. Evidently love calls us to the things of dream and to a radical foolishnessness.

THE HOUSE

Sometimes, on waking, she would close her eyes
For a last look at that white house she knew
In sleep alone, and held no title to,
And had not entered yet, for all her sighs.

What did she tell me of that house of hers?
White gatepost; terrace; fanlight of the door;
A widow's walk above the bouldered shore;
Salt winds that ruffle the surrounding firs.

Is she now there, wherever there may be?
Only a foolish man would hope to find
That haven fashioned by her dreaming mind.
Night after night, my love, I put to sea.

--Richard Wilbur

from Anterooms (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

12 comments:

  1. Oh. I'm doing a lot of massage, right now, for a widow in her nineties, and sometimes the grief - which she never alludes to in words - is overwhelming.

    What a terrific poem. Some idiot - might it have been Gore Vidal? - once said that poetry was a young man's game, and reading Wordsworth made me think it was true: but it's not at all, thank God!

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  2. Yes, if we could all be that creative even at ninety, were we to live that long. Wonderful poem of love and longing.

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  3. Dale--

    Keats and Shelley must be the source of that romantic idea! Since that was all the game they had... I look to Yeats as inspiration for getting older.

    The power of the unsaid. It's a lesson to us, isn't it? With your widow, it's all there, shared without having to make it explicit.

    marja-leena--

    Looking ahead, it's pleasing to see fruitfulness in some artists.

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  4. When older, I think most people relax a little and have learned to accept themselves and be themselves.
    I love that people of all ages write poetry.
    I really think people end up trying less, and doing more.

    In your case, Marly, I think that would not be possible!
    You just 'do' now!
    I am trying to imagine your poetry when you are older. I cannot!
    What a treat ahead!

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  5. (Not that you don't try. You MUST! That stuff does not just 'happen'! But you are so prolific. A doer!)

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  6. That is a wonderful poem. I must get a hold of his recent stuff. I've always very much admired his work, and I am glad that he has kept on producing it.
    Being the daughter of a very vital 93 year old man (at the time of his death last year), I know that elderly people can maintain all the energy and emotional verve of their younger selves. If they are lucky enough to keep their minds, and their physical health permits, they can keep on doing whatever it was they were doing up till the end.

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  7. I really thought pails comment was beautiful your poetry is just going to get better and better. Even a t 90 you will never be old. You'll be like that high flyer aunti of yours.
    Susanna

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  8. Paul,

    Nor can I! Although all those aches and twinges tell you what 90 must be like--a whole bundle of them, I guess.

    I'm glad I look like a doer; from my side, I feel that I have little time to write and must hop to it in my free moments.

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  9. Robbi,

    I heard him read this poem at West Chester and liked it. One of those small rooms that is bigger on the inside.

    It is wonderful when people get to keep their marbles and their energy into the 90's. I hope to still be able to find a world of beauty and glory and joy when I am so old--if I manage to make it that far.

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  10. Ah, Susanna, that was sweet--and to emulate my parasailing Aunt Myra would be wondrous. Although I prefer to fly high in words, certainly!

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  11. Interesting / coincidental? - that I saw this news link today: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/04/us-ageing-cure-idUSTRE7632ID20110704

    But yes, love that poem too!

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  12. Luisa,

    Don't think that will work for me! It's not happening quite fast enough, is it? Imagine the chagrin of those who almost live "forever"...

    But I still hope to have the brains to write when I am a crone.

    Glad you liked it. (Mutual fan club.)

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.