Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The week is winding down, and on Saturday I leave for the Frost Place. As regards my work for the conference, I am ready. As regards my reading, I am not. Before last week's murders, I had a long conversation with you about my plans for this reading; but since then, that plan has started to seem priggish and self-indulgent. Why explore the trajectory of my writing life when three friends have just been murdered? That's an illogical reaction, I know, but grief is not logical.

I spent a few hours with Linda yesterday afternoon, and we talked and talked about any old thing that came into our heads. I told her about Frost's farmhouse and the view of the mountains from the front porch, and she told me that, when her mother-in-law died, she left behind a stack of old schoolbook poetry anthologies. Nobody else wanted them, so Linda gathered them up and stored them in her attic. Last week, after her daughter and grandchildren were killed, she went upstairs and got down those poetry books and started choosing poems to reprint on the funeral program and to display in other places during the service. In other words, she lamented their deaths by way of the sentiments of 1918 schoolbook publishers. For whatever reason, this seemed exactly right to me, and it made me doubly grateful I had not attempted to read anything at the service.

Here's the poem that Linda chose for the back of the program:

I Know Not What the Future Holds

I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death
His mercy underlies.
And if my heart and flesh are weak
To bear an untried pain,
The bruised reed thou wilt not break,
But strengthen and sustain.
And so beside the silent sea
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from him can come to me
On ocean or on shore.
I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.
And thou, O Lord, by who are seen
Thy creatures as they be,
Forgive me if too close I lean
My human heart on thee.


Dawn Potter said...

I wanted to write something pithy about the mysteries of poetic power, the way in which even sneered-at poems can sometimes rise to the task, the way in which people who know nothing at all about poems turn to them at moments of crisis. But I didn't have the heart. So perhaps you'll be so kind as to imagine that I wrote about these things.

Carol Willette Bachofner said...

The last lines really get to me. I'd read this long ago in high school and recall thinking at the time that I was fortunate to have poetry as a comfort in times of grief. That idea of a 17 year old girl is still a hallmark of my interaction with poetry.

Dawn, there is a reason you are about to head off to Frost. It may have seemed as it this was all about the "normal" conference time and experience. But I think it will be a way and a place for you to begin to heal your own heart. Go ahead and lean it on the mountains you will see from the porch. They are strong and willing.

Jean Kanzinger said...

I am remembering the woman who called you not long ago just to verify that a poet really lived in Harmony. Indeed - and how fortunate.

Maureen said...

As Peggy Rosenthal of Image Journal has written, ". . . everywhere there is personal loss, personal survival, personal grief, personal hope. Everywhere there is transience... yet everywhere there are miracles of recovery. And everywhere, the crafting of art can be an agent of this recovery."

May you enjoy your time at Frost Place.

Julia Munroe Martin said...

Those last lines really got to me, too (as Carol said). I also agree with Carol about the Frost trip helping you heal. And maybe (I'm sorry if I'm assuming too much based on how I myself would feel...) to give yourself permission to enjoy life again. As you say, grief is not logical.
(p.s. I'd just like to add that I really love your blog, and it's been "nice" to get to know you a little better through all this...thank you)

Kathleen said...

Yes, The Frost Place is right up there in importance with everything else. If it weren't for poetry, there wouldn't have been that pile of poems in that attic for her to find solace in and choose from. Even if you didn't feel like the poet for the occasion, it was right. You will be for another occasion. And so will those you teach at the Frost Place. It is so very worth it.