Thursday, April 10, 2014

What is a friend? This is what I've been asking myself this morning. It's a silly question, on one level; an impossible one, on another. There are people I call friends and people who call me a friend. Sometimes these roles overlap, but sometimes they do not. There are self-proclaimed friends who flatter and coddle me, and self-proclaimed friends who enjoy pointing out my failings. Sometimes these friends overlap, but sometimes they do not. There are friends with whom I maintain a distant, almost ascetic collegiality; and there are friends who say, "I love you!" every time we speak, whether in person or on the phone or by note. There are friends who say we are friends but who behave like enemies, and there are friends who say we are strangers but behave like lovers. There are friends who used to be lovers, and friends who used to be the lovers of those lovers, and friends who betrayed me and friends whom I betrayed. There are friends who hate the word lovers. There are friends who are Friends, which is to say Quakers, and there are Friends who are me, who was raised as a Friend. There are Facebook friends, a kettle of fish that you can stir yourself. There are friends who are relations, and there are relations who are friends, and there are relations who are not friends and there are friends who are not relations, and sometimes these links involve blood ties and sometimes they do not. There are friends who bring out the worst in me, and friends who bring out the best, and there are friends who are dead but speak to me in dreams. There are friends who make me jealous because I worry that they love other friends better than they love me. There are friends who want more love from me than I can give them. There are friends who used to be friends but have now forgotten me, or given me up as a bad job, or disappeared into their own crowded histories. There are friends who never answer letters and friends who answer every letter and friends who only telephone me when they're blind drunk. There are friends who hate poetry and love music or hate music and love dogs or hate dogs and love cooking or only contact me when the Red Sox are winning and/or losing. There are friends who love me because they can cry in front of me, and friends who offer to do my clothes shopping, and friends who want to hike up a mountain with me and talk about the bands of our youth, and friends who disagree with every single thing I say, and friends who try to make me read books I don't want to read. There are friends who embarrass me in public and friends whom I embarrass in public. There are friends who don't know they are my friends, and friends that are tree frogs or lilies, and friends that are the sound of Bach over a crackling car radio, and friends that are a high gale in the white pines.

Elegy for Philip Sidney

Fulke Greville

Silence augmenteth grief, writing increaseth rage,
Staled are my thoughts, which loved and lost the wonder of our age;
Yet quickened now with fire, though dead with frost ere now,
Enraged I write I know not what; dead, quick, I know not how.

Hard-hearted minds relent and rigor's tears abound,
And envy strangely rues his end, in whom no fault was found.
Knowledge her light hath lost, valor hath slain her knight,
Sidney is dead, dead is my friend, dead is the world's delight.

Place, pensive, wails his fall whose presence was her pride;
Time crieth out, My ebb is come; his life was my spring tide.
Fame mourns in that she lost the ground of her reports;
Each living wight laments his lack, and all in sundry sorts.

He was (woe worth that word!) to each well-thinking mind
A spotless friend, a matchless man, whose virtue ever shined;
Declaring in his thoughts, his life, and that he writ,
Highest conceits, longest foresights, and deepest works of wit.

He, only like himself, was second unto none,
Whose death (though life) we rue, and wrong, and all in vain do moan;
Their loss, not him, wail they that fill the world with cries,
Death slew not him, but he made death his ladder to the skies.

Now sink of sorrow I who live—the more the wrong!
Who wishing death, whom death denies, whose thread is all too long;
Who tied to wretched life, who looks for no relief,
Must spend my ever dying days in never ending grief.

Farewell to you, my hopes, my wonted waking dreams,
Farewell, sometimes enjoyëd joy, eclipsëd are thy beams.
Farewell, self-pleasing thoughts which quietness brings forth,
And farewell, friendship's sacred league, uniting minds of worth.

And farewell, merry heart, the gift of guiltless minds,
And all sports which for life's restore variety assigns;
Let all that sweet is, void; in me no mirth may dwell:
Philip, the cause of all this woe, my life's content, farewell!

Now rhyme, the son of rage, which art no kin to skill,
And endless grief, which deads my life, yet knows not how to kill,
Go, seek that hapless tomb, which if ye hap to find
Salute the stones that keep the limbs that held so good a mind.


Carlene said...

"...or disappeared into their own crowded histories."

This part of this lovely prose poem (and I'm identifying it as such) spoke so loudly to me. Lately my family has experienced a lot of levels of friendship, and this piece matters in so many ways. People we have not been in touch with for years have come to our emotional aid, and it matters so much to know that the "airy thread" (Donne) is unbroken.

I read it to Geoff, who is, at the moment, braced up and ensconced in his recliner...we then engaged in a pretty deep discussion about the blessings of all sorts of levels of friendship. Thank you; your post came on a wish I didn't know I had.

Dawn Potter said...

Oh, Carlene, thank you. And send my best, best wishes to Geoff. You two have been on my mind so much this week. Last March, when my son was hospitalized with his throat infection, I had a parallel recognition of the way in which friendship and family reignite a flame that can smolder or disappear under happier circumstances. But lately I've also been thinking about ways in which the friendship label can be destructive, the way it gives people leave to manipulate and damage one another, consciously or not. And then there are those friendships that define a life. Friend is such a small word for such a broad relationship.

Christopher said...

To me a friend is also someone you never need to worry about losing, someone that if you do lose contact with or even have a fight with, there's nothing to forgive, to explain, or even to catch up on.

In that sense a friend is already in your own skin.

Thanks for that, Dawn -- a cleansing at just the right moment. Because it's the great Songkran Water Festival in South East Asia at the moment, and everything's getting washed. When I go out on my bicycle I get hosed down or even drenched with a whole bucket in my face, and I don't always like it. But that's friendship too.


Dawn Potter said...

It's a mud season festival here in central Maine. But mud is a friend too.