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Posts Tagged ‘death’

Idealistic Change 

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“Emplumada” by Lorna Dee Cervantes

When summer ended the leaves of snapdragons withered taking their shrill-colored mouths with them. They were still, so quiet. They were violet where umber now is. She hated and she hated to see them go. Flowers  born when the weather was good – this she thinks of, watching the branch of peaches daring their ways above the fence, and further, two hummingbirds, hovering, stuck to each other, arcing their bodies in grim determination to find what is good, what is given them to find.

These are warriors  distancing themselves from history. They find peace in the way they contain the wind and are gone. 

“Emplumada” from Emplumada, by Lorna Dee Cervantes, © 1982.

All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.
Source: Emplumada (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982). 
                                                                                                                

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Literally this poem seems to move from winter and death of snapdragons into a reminiscing on life. Although the observer is saddened to see the snapdragons die, she has faith that the curled and shriveled flowers will have rebirth in the spring.  She likes to remember the flowers as they were rather than how they are. The snapdragons were in their environment, with hummingbirds buzzing in harmony and unison. This reminded me of memorial services and funerals in a way, since people often like to remember the departed as they were in life: full of abundance. When someone dies after a chronic illness, no one wants to hear about how weak he/she looked lying in the Hospice bed. I was randomly reading obituaries and found it odd that older people had these pictures next to their names that obviously weren’t picture of their eighty-year-old selves; rather these photos captured the departed in youth and health.

The hummingbirds kind of remind me of what the Tufts interviewer called me: “an idealistic teenager”. I am like the hummingbird, reaching out to “find what is good” in this world. I do distance myself from history-I want newness and change. I’m not sure about the last line though: “They find peace in the way they contain the wind and are gone”. I hope not to ever find peace.

Finding peace can mean being content. I’m Intent on never being satisfied with the way things are.

I’d like to think I’m not completely an idealist “Who goes with the flow and “contains the wind” because that label often conveys naivety. I don’t want to change the world, I am changing the world.  

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Tu Fu Poetry

Bird over Cruz del Condor in Peru

Bird over Cruz del Condor in Peru

Gazing at the Sacred Peak

For all this, what is the mountain god like?
An unending green of lands north and south:
From ethereal beauty Creation distills
There, yin and yang split dusk and dawn.
Swelling clouds sweep by. Returning birds
Ruin my eyes vanishing. One day soon,
At the summit, the other mountains will be
Small enough to hold, all in a single glance.

I notice, as seems to be the case with Chinese poetry, lots of nature imagery and metaphors. The strongest one is “At the summit, the other mountains will be/Small enough to hold, all in a single glance.” I think that this means the speaker will die “one day soon” and be in heaven and practically close enough to hold these immense rock formations in his hands. Earthy things will seem smaller after death. The mountain can represent both life and death because the sun rises and sets as a Creator each day, and “yin and yang split dusk and dawn”. In this same way, a poem can take us to a place of eternal beauty and creation. A poet creates a poem as the sun creates the day.

The above image resonated with me when reading this poem. It actually was taken in Cruz del Condor, Peru, on the top of a mountain where there is omage paid to the Mountain God Apu. The summit is so high that if one reaches out, it seems as if the mountains are within our humanly grasp. Here’s a photo of the Shrine to Apu.

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May poems always take you to the top of a mountain to meet the author, in the spirit of Vladimir Nabokov

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            The Grave                            

Man looking into the sea,

taking the view from those who have as much right to it as you have to it yourself,  it is human nature to stand in the middle of a thing,

but you cannot stand in the middle of this;

the sea has nothing to give but a well excavated grave. 

The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey foot at the top, reserved as their contours, saying nothing; repression, however, is not the most obvious characteristic of the sea; 

the sea is a collector, quick to return a rapacious look. 

There are others besides you who have worn that look – whose expression is no longer a protest; the fish no longer investigate them for their bones have not lasted:  men lower nets, unconscious of the fact that they are desecrating a grave,

and row quickly away –  the blades of the oars moving together like the feet of water-spiders as if there were no such thing as death. 

The wrinkles progress among themselves in a phalanx – beautiful under networks of foam, and fade breathlessly while the sea rustles in and out of the seaweed; 

the birds swim throught the air at top speed, emitting cat-calls as heretofore-  \the tortoise-shell scourges about the feet of the cliffs, in motion beneath them; and the ocean,  under the pulsation of lighthouses and noise of bell-bouys, advances as usual,  looking as if it were not that ocean in which dropped things are bound

to sink-  in which if they turn and twist,

it is neither with volition nor consciousness.

When first looking over The Grave, one realizes that the speaker is the poet while observing a man looking into the sea. Ms. Moore notes that everyone has the same right to view the sea. The sea is universal. She says “it is human nature to stand in the middle of the thing, but you cannot stand in the middle of this”. I think that “this” is referring to inevitable death, especially with the mention of a grave.The sea collects the dead as God collects the dead, but the sea has a ravenous( “rapacious look”) appetite, and we like to think of God as a little less savage. I found the image of men lowering nets “unconscious of the fact that they are desecrating a grave”. It’s a paradox : men getting fish (life) from the depths of death. The last few lines remind us that although the world may not care about us, we can find our own value and meaning in this life. after we die, life goes on. The whole world continues on without consciousness of who we were, what we were, why we mattered. It’s an unsettling thought to think that our secrets, our achievements are all washed away- pulled in the depths.

This poem reminded me of the movie The Guardian, with the coast guard captain who drowned. He might live on in memories for a few years, but after the inital grieving period, things will resume as they were “heretofore”.

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LINES COMPOSED A FEW MILES ABOVE TINTERN ABBEY, ON REVISITING THE BANKS OF THE WYE DURING A TOUR. JULY 13, 1798        

      FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length

      Of five long winters! and again I hear

      These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

      With a soft inland murmur.–Once again

      Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

      That on a wild secluded scene impress

      Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

      The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

      The day is come when I again repose

      Here, under this dark sycamore, and view                        10

      These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,

      Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,

      Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves

      ‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see

      These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines

      Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,

      Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke

      Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!

      With some uncertain notice, as might seem

Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,          

           Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire      The Hermit sits alone.

                              These beauteous forms,

      Through a long absence, have not been to me

      As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:

      But oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din

      Of towns and cities, I have owed to them

      In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

      Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;

      And passing even into my purer mind,

      With tranquil restoration:–feelings too                        30

      Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,

      As have no slight or trivial influence

      On that best portion of a good man’s life,

      His little, nameless, unremembered, acts

      Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,

      To them I may have owed another gift,

      Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,

      In which the burthen of the mystery,

      In which the heavy and the weary weight

      Of all this unintelligible world,                               40

      Is lightened:–that serene and blessed mood,

      In which the affections gently lead us on,–

      Until, the breath of this corporeal frame

      And even the motion of our human blood

      Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

     In body, and become a living soul:

      While with an eye made quiet by the power

      Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

      We see into the life of things.

If this      Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft–                        50

      In darkness and amid the many shapes

      Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir

      Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,

      Have hung upon the beatings of my heart–

      How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,

      O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,

      How often has my spirit turned to thee!

        And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,

      With many recognitions dim and faint,

      And somewhat of a sad perplexity,                               60

      The picture of the mind revives again:

      While here I stand, not only with the sense

      Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts

      That in this moment there is life and food

      For future years. And so I dare to hope,

      Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first

      I came among these hills; when like a roe

      I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides

      Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,

      Wherever nature led: more like a man                            70

      Flying from something that he dreads, than one

      Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then

      (The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,

      And their glad animal movements all gone by)

      To me was all in all.–I cannot paint

      What then I was. The sounding cataract

      Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,

      The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,

      Their colours and their forms, were then to me

      An appetite; a feeling and a love,     That had no need of a remoter charm,      By thought supplied, nor any interest

      Unborrowed from the eye.–That time is past,

      And all its aching joys are now no more,

      And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this

      Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur, other gifts

      Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,

      Abundant recompence. For I have learned

      To look on nature, not as in the hour

      Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes                    90

      The still, sad music of humanity,

      Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power

      To chasten and subdue. And I have felt

      A presence that disturbs me with the joy

      Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

      Of something far more deeply interfused,

      Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

      And the round ocean and the living air,

      And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;

      A motion and a spirit, that impels                             100

      All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

      And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still

      A lover of the meadows and the woods,

      And mountains; and of all that we behold

      From this green earth; of all the mighty world

      Of eye, and ear,–both what they half create,

      And what perceive; well pleased to recognise

      In nature and the language of the sense,

      The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,

      The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul                  110

      Of all my moral being.

                              Nor perchance,

      If I were not thus taught, should I the more

      Suffer my genial spirits to decay:

      For thou art with me here upon the banks

      Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,

      My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch

      The language of my former heart, and read

      My former pleasures in the shooting lights

      Of thy wild eyes. Oh! yet a little while

      May I behold in thee what I was once,                          120

      My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make,

      Knowing that Nature never did betray

      The heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege,

      Through all the years of this our life, to lead

      From joy to joy: for she can so inform

      The mind that is within us, so impress

      With quietness and beauty, and so feed

      With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,

      Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,

      Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all         130      The dreary intercourse of daily life,

      Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb

      Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold

      Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon

      Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;

      And let the misty mountain-winds be free

      To blow against thee: and, in after years,

      When these wild ecstasies shall be matured

      Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind

      Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,                       140

      Thy memory be as a dwelling-place

      For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,

      If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,

      Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts

      Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,

      And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance–

      If I should be where I no more can hear

      Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams

      Of past existence–wilt thou then forget

      That on the banks of this delightful stream                    150

      We stood together; and that I, so long

      A worshipper of Nature, hither came

      Unwearied in that service: rather say

      With warmer love–oh! with far deeper zeal

      Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,

      That after many wanderings, many years

      Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,

      And this green pastoral landscape, were to me

      More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!

                                                              1798.

                                   

                         

In the beginning of this poem, Wordsworth paints an image of a glorious stream with “beauteous forms”. He almost seems alone with nature and is in “deep seclusion”. Because of the repetition of “once again” in this first paragraph, we realize that Wordsworth is returning to a place he has been before.  He felt run down (“weariness”) by city life and was amazed by the beauty of the landscape. He feels renewal after visiting this place when “the fever of the world have hung upon the beatings of [his] heart”. We all have times like that!

            Moving into line 58 is the shift in the poem to the present, as Wordsworth visits this Wye. He says that things have “changed, no doubt, from what I was first”. He realizes he cannot go back to the way he was. Although his youth is over, “other gifts have followed; for such loss, I would believe, abundant recompense”. He sees nature differently. I’m wondering if he’s reminded of his own mortality, with the “still, sad music of humanity”. He goes on to say that there is a motion and a spirit than impels objects of all thoughts (God??). Then he starts capitalizing Friend and how she is always with him (GOD??). There is definitely a relgious undernote considering this is about an abbey, (denotation : A monastery of religious persons secluded from the world, and under vows of celibacy). Can nature be one’s church?

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