The poet laureate of the UK, Simon Armitage, has written a most beautiful tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh (title above). Not sycophantic, not pompous, fresh and sensible, like the Duke himself. It was published for the first time yesterday, the day of Philip’s funeral. It reads like a tribute to a man and also to a generation – we won’t see their like again, sadly.
The weather in the window this morning is snow, unseasonal singular flakes, a slow winter’s final shiver. On such an occasion to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up for a whole generation – that crew whose survival was always the stuff of minor miracle, who came ashore in orange-crate coracles, fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.
Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets, regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business. Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became both inner core and outer case in a family heirloom of nesting dolls. Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.
They were sons of a zodiac out of sync with the solar year, but turned their minds to the day’s big science and heavy questions. To study their hands at rest was to picture maps showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions. Last of the great avuncular magicians they kept their best tricks for the grand finale: Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.
The major oaks in the wood start tuning up and skies to come will deliver their tributes. But for now, a cold April’s closing moments parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.
When I posted about Gwendolyn Brooks, I did not realize it was World Poetry Day. Apparently, it is. Fortuitous. I am always writing poems, most of which are kind of cruddy. Here is one that isn’t so bad, which I wrote a while back about my time living in Istanbul. True story.
In the small shops
in my old neighbourhood in Istanbul
the shopkeepers would use a battered shoebox
as a cash register. They would leave me alone
with it – no locks
in sight, as they went down the road to get me a tea, a cay,
sweet and dark like amber fossilized into stone.
They had faith that I was good. They were lucky. In the main
How had I not heard of Gwendolyn Brooks, dear readers? Had any of you? What beautiful poetry. I discovered her, of all places, on Instagram, where I follow an account that posts poems.
when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story
– And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a Wednesday and a Saturday, And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday— When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed, Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon Looking off down the long street To nowhere, Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation And nothing-I-have-to-do and I’m-happy-why? And if-Monday-never-had-to-come— When you have forgotten that, I say, And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell, And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang; And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner, That is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles Or chicken and rice And salad and rye bread and tea And chocolate chip cookies— I say, when you have forgotten that, When you have forgotten my little presentiment That the war would be over before they got to you; And how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed, And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end Bright bedclothes, Then gently folded into each other— When you have, I say, forgotten all that, Then you may tell, Then I may believe You have forgotten me well.
It’s my birthday and my gift to myself is this – Sir Michael Caine reading Rudyard Kipling’s “If.” This was a poem we had to memorize in junior high school. Sadly, it is probably no longer studied by kids as it was written by an old British guy. What a shame – it really contains perfect lessons for life.
It’s January 6th, which is the birthday of my late brother, Alan. Miss him terribly, and would sure love to talk U.S. politics with him right about now. I have no other relatives capable of the kind of rational discourse Alan could manage or who are anywhere near as intellectually curious. Would also love to talk poetry with him and as it is Epiphany thought I would try to find some poems other than Eliot’s wonderful Journey of the Magi. I succeeded! This link gives us Eliot’s poem, as well as two others, both of which were new to me: one from Auden and one from Joseph Brodsky, which is just startling. What touched me about the Auden poem was that he had rejected faith as a teenager, but then came back to it. (I have been on a similar trajectory.)
The grandson of Church of England clergymen, Auden renounced his High Anglican faith as a teenager. However, in November 1939 he went to a German cinema in New York City, and as Edward Mendelsohn put it in a review of the book Auden and Christianity, the theatre
was showing an official German newsreel celebrating the Nazi victory over Poland. (Until the United States and Germany declared war, German films could be shown freely in American theaters.) Auden was startled by the shouts of “Kill the Poles!” that rose from the audience of ordinary German immigrants who were under no coercion to support the Nazis. He told an interviewer many years later: “I wondered, then, why I reacted as I did against this denial of every humanistic value. The answer brought me back to the church.”
He eventually found his way to the American version of the Church of England in the United States, the Episcopal Church, and became a parishioner at St. Mark’s-in-the Bowery.
(Emphasis mine.) I have had some similar motivations regarding faith. Follow the above links for the poems and more.
This is the third of my pandemic poetry trilogy (others are here and here) – so you can all breathe a sigh of relief. It is the last one! It is ripped off of a far better poem by John Betjeman, and there is a tribute herein to the wonderful Roz Chast. The reference to “Ol’ Mr. Corona” is something I stole from this cartoon – priceless!
In our Toronto Home: Poem for a Pandemic
Let me throw this disposable mask out
As my paranoia oozes.
Did I get too close to that guy in Loblaws?
Should I decontaminate my shoeses?
As I douse my hands in soap,
Listen to this lady’s hope.
Gracious God, please stop the virus
SARS-CoV-2, or Covid-19,
For whatever you might call it,
It is remarkably quite mean.
But dear God, whatever path you take,
Spare me from Ol’ Mr. Corona’s wake.
Keep my body hale and hardy,
Do your best with my heart and soul.
Oh, and also save my sweetheart
And the other folks I hold.
And, as we chat, sweet Jesus,
Save me and mine from all diseases.
Think of what dear Canada stands for:
Holding Americans in contempt;
Peacekeeping; multicult; and healthcare
Do make we Canucks verklempt.
But Lord, remember with all the muscle you flex
Protect this pair in the Annex.
I worship now on YouTube, Zoom, all that slew,
As no more than one shall gather in a pew.
So God, know my faith has not ceased,
Though I do not at all miss sharing the peace:
Handshakes, awkward smiles – delivered with no flair!
Things that make an introvert’s nightmare.
I miss the singing and King James –
For his version is the best.
None of that “Good News” heresy
Could ever offer me much rest.
I miss stained glass and Healey Willan’s organ,
And Johann Sebastian’s music – ach, JSB, guten morgen!
Now my worries are unburdened,
What a joy to talk with you.
Though these days seem filled with trials,
I know you will see me through.
And while, dear Lord, you do bewitch
I need to binge some more Netflix.