Sunday, October 9, 2016

But I have Promises to Keep

,RHYS: I don't know about you, but I've been finding the last weeks really stressful. I see the imploding of our nation, our democracy. I can't begin to imagine what might happen next. I'm not going to mention specifics because I don't want the sort of hate mail that some friends have received, as in "why don't you kill yourself?"

So one thing I've always done when under moments of extreme stress, is to recite poetry. Two old favorites, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost come immediately to mind, especially the latter. When I was hiking in New Hampshire once my friends and I visited the Frost farm and did the poetry walk. It takes one around the estate and where each of the poems was written it is tacked up to a tree. The woodpile poem next to the woodpile. The Picking Apples next to the apple tree. We took it in turns to read aloud, our voices echoing in the crisp fall air with the scent of real, rotting apples beneath our feet and the trees glowing in fall colors. One of the most memorable experiences of my life.

And now I'm muttering to myself, "The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep.
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep."

And of course:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence.
Two roads diverged in a wood and I--
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference."

Two poems that speak to me personally. Isn't it magical the way that words can help and heal?
And where are the poets these days? Writing poetry we can all read and recite and appreciate?
I suppose they are now the song writers. Yesterday, all my troubles were so far away,"

But I'm going to keep to positive thoughts:

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road
Healthy. Free. The world before me.
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune--I myself am good fortune.
Henceforth I whimper no more. Postpone no more, need nothing.
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

Yes, that will be my mantra until election day. Maybe for the rest of my life.
Do you have a favorite poem that gets you through bad times?


  1. Rhys, we are most definitely in the midst of difficult, stressful times. Scary . . . .
    “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” is my favorite poem; another treasured one is Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees.”

  2. I wake terrified in the night, thinking about what could happen to us.

    There is no frigate like a book
    To take us lands away,
    Nor any coursers like a page
    Of prancing poetry.
    This traverse may the poorest take
    Without oppress of toll;
    How frugal is the chariot
    That bears a human soul!

    Emily Dickinson

    Thanks Reds, and story tellers everywhere.

  3. It's so true, Rhys, that things are getting scary out there. Here in my corner of Massachusetts, there are a number of thriving, working poets, writing and keeping the art alive. The John Greenleaf Whittier Home has an annual Tapestry of Voices event in the summer with poetry - new and his - read aloud. It's fabulous

    Here's my favorite:
    The Summer Day
    Who made the world?
    Who made the swan, and the black bear?
    Who made the grasshopper?
    This grasshopper, I mean-
    the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
    Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
    Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
    I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
    I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
    into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
    how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
    which is what I have been doing all day.
    Tell me, what else should I have done?
    Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
    Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?
    —Mary Oliver

  4. Those are all so wonderful, and such a good idea Rhys! Mary Oliver is a queen...

    I thought of something a yoga teacher used to say at the end of every class. I always left feeling upbeat and calm:

    May we be happy
    May we be healthy
    May we ride the waves of our life wherever they take us...

  5. Thanks your choices.

  6. I must say your poetic approach to soothing one's psyche in these stressful times is certainly uplifting. For me I recall the words of former Pope John when he spoke in Central Park,NYC.Paraphrasing his message- we should not be afraid to accept life in all its stages and with all the maladies that it may bring. Be hopeful, love your neighbor and forgive the transgressions of others for in the end peace will prevail.Always found that positive thoughts created a circle of tranquility around me as I dealt with the realities of life.

  7. Edith, that poem made me catch my breath. I see why it speaks to you, world traveler and author of so many series at a time! You (and many of the Reds) have made the most of your one and precious life.

    I'm not much for poetry, except in bits and pieces, as in parts of "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning. First stanza:

    Grow old along with me!
    The best is yet to be,
    The last of life, for which the first was made:
    Our times are in His hand
    Who saith "A whole I planned,
    Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!''

    And further along:

    Youth ended, I shall try
    My gain or loss thereby;
    Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold:
    And I shall weigh the same,
    Give life its praise or blame:
    Young, all lay in dispute; I shall know, being old.

    I'm also a big fan of doggerel, especially by the wry and witty Ogden Nash and the brilliant Edward Lear. I still have a card a friend gave us when we got married, with a picture of the owl and the pussycat on the front.

    One of my daughters learned Jabberwocky from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland by heart in third grade and she can still recite it on request. How can you not love all that tongue-twisting fantastical imagery?

  8. Thank you, Rhys, for the reminder about how soothing poetry can be. I am a big fan of David Whyte and share this with you all:

    Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
    the conversation. The kettle is singing
    even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
    have left their arrogant aloofness and
    seen the good in you at last. All the birds
    and creatures of the world are unutterably
    themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

    -- David Whyte
    from Everything is Waiting for You
    ©2003 Many Rivers Press

  9. These poems are wonderful and have inspired me to do what I did when I was a student... To ,are a book of inspirational thoughts and images to look at on bad days. And these poems will all be in it

  10. So true Rhys! Part of the reality of life is hardship. That is not a negative statement. It is simply a statement of fact. Every day brings new challenges. Living with the expectation that life will be difficult makes hard times easier to deal with. When a family encounters hard times they will need to join together and face the challenge as a team. They will need to be sensitive to the needs of individual family members each of whom will face unique difficulties. Life is not easy, but having a support system makes life that much easier.I believe the same is true for our country. “When things are bad, we take comfort in the thought that they could always get worse. And when they are, we find hope in the thought that things are so bad they have to get better.” – Malcolm S. Forbes

  11. 'Cottonmouth Country' by Louise Gluck

    Fish bones walked the waves off Hatteras,
    And there were other signs
    That Death wooed us, by water, wooed us
    By land: among the pines
    An uncurled cottonmouth that rolled on moss
    Reared in the polluted air.
    Birth, not death, is the hard loss.
    I know. I also left a skin there.

    For me, these are strange and troubling times--more so than at any other time in my life. But we are survivors and we recognize the dangers for what they are--out of this chaos, I am praying for a return to normalcy.

  12. Rhys - I have several modern poets that I read regularly. One is Mary Oliver - this is from her newest collection "Upstream," - “In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.”

    and this, “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
    I want to be light and frolicsome.
    I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
    as though I had wings.”
    ― Mary Oliver, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays

    And this from an aquaintance of mine - L. B. Thompson, who I think is amazingly talented:

    Variation on a Theme by King David

    Praise to you!
    Praise to you my snappy love!

    Praise you in clean socks on a Queens-bound
    train; praise you
    for your famous avocado
    sandwiches; Praise you from Brooklyn to blasphemy!

    I've called the mayor to praise you; & a third-
    base coach; even
    that no-neck accountant
    who doesn't have the decency to nod hello
    has agreed to praise you!

    Praise you with bongos and fine fancy
    tea; praise you
    with rhumba, tango & marmalade; praise
    you with your knickers at your knees!

    I praise you on Flag Day, & on whichever equinox
    allows for the balancing of eggs;
    I praise you with eggs!
    Brown ones & jumbo & Faberge Tiffany blue!

    On the white of your wrist I praise you;
    on the vacuumed throw rug; I praise you full-
    page on Sunday! With faxes
    & foxgloves & brushed cotton sheets;
    with sky-write & timbrel &

    wink! Let every soul
    in the Battery Tunnel honk
    her horn to praise you! Praise you
    with ripe limes & wrestling mats;
    praise you tax-free with agates and tin foil
    & all sparkly things!

    Praise you with foggy spectacles and Wisconsin green cheese!
    Praise you to the afternoon of orthopedic sneakers;
    praise you from poinsettia to piccolo!
    Praise you & praise you & praise you!

    My love,
    from Brooklyn to blasphemy I praise you!

    -- L. B. Thompson

    there are more, and while they're sometimes hard to find, I seek them out and am rewarded when I find someone I enjoy.

  13. Tony Hoagland is another fave


    By Tony Hoagland

    She goes out to hang the windchime
    in her nightie and her work boots.
    It’s six-thirty in the morning
    and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest
    tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,

    windchime in her left hand,
    hammer in her right, the nail
    gripped tight between her teeth
    but nothing happens next because
    she’s trying to figure out
    how to switch #1 with #3.

    She must have been standing in the kitchen,
    coffee in her hand, asleep,
    when she heard it—the wind blowing
    through the sound the windchime
    wasn’t making
    because it wasn’t there.

    No one, including me, especially anymore believes
    till death do us part,
    but I can see what I would miss in leaving—
    the way her ankles go into the work boots
    as she stands upon the ice chest;
    the problem scrunched into her forehead;
    the little kissable mouth
    with the nail in it.

  14. Thank you for suggesting Mary Oliver. She's wonderful going to buy her newest collection

  15. On Angels
    by Czeslaw Milosz

    All was taken away from you: white dresses,
    wings, even existence.
    Yet I believe in you,

    There, where the world is turned inside out,
    a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
    you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.

    Short is your stay here:
    now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
    in a melody repeated by a bird,
    or in the smell of apples at close of day
    when the light makes the orchards magic.

    They say somebody has invented you
    but to me this does not sound convincing
    for the humans invented themselves as well.

    The voice — no doubt it is a valid proof,
    as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
    weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
    girdled with the lightening.

    I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
    and, what is strange, I understood more or less
    an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

    day draw near
    another one
    do what you can.

  16. Not so much poetry to soothe the soul, but for escaping from the world. This time of year I love story poems, and the spookier the better. James Whitcomb Riley's "Little Orphant Annie" with all its dreadful threats ("We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun /A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ’at Annie tells about /An’ the Gobble-uns ’at gits you /If you don’t watch out!") and Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Men" with its eerie refrain of "come buy! Come buy!" And Noyes' "Highwayman"...

    Now I want pumpkins and apples, and it's eighty-three bloody degrees out.

  17. Oh, Rhys, that sounds like the most wonderful experience at the Robert Frost farm. He's my favorite poet, and now I really want to visit the farm and read the poems at the different stations. It sounds like the perfect remedy to soothe my troubled soul as we approach an election that scares me mightily.

    Jennifer Gray, you shared two of my favorite poems this time of year, "Little Orphant Annie" and "The Highwayman."

    Here's a favorite Robert Frost of mine, as it represents a calmness of living with nature, an invitation that I can be part of that, too.

    The Pasture
    By Robert Frost

    I'm going out to clean the pasture spring;
    I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
    (And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
    I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.

    I'm going out to fetch the little calf
    That's standing by the mother. It's so young,
    It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
    I sha'n't be gone long.—You come too.

  18. Love all your selections. I recently stumbled on this blog, as I've read most of the books the Reds have written, and I've been spending a happy rainy afternoon on Cape Cod catching up on many back posts --what a lovely rabbit hole to fall down into! They are good for the spirits, as are the poetry selections you all have chosen. I suppose it's not technically a poem, but this one usually picks me up when I'm feeling discouraged with the world in general. It's from a letter by Fra Giovanni:

    I am your friend and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not got, but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.

    No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!

    No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

    The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see - and to see we have only to look. I beseech you to look!

    Note to myself: Must visit Robert Frost's farm and read more poetry! Rhys, I love you idea of self-made inspirational thoughts/images book.

  19. Thanks for the dose of sanity, Rhys
    For pure fun and foolishness, and wonderful sound, I love Lewis Carroll's Jaberwocky. I've been able to recite it since since I was very young.

  20. Thank you for the dose of sanity, Rhys! I cannot think of a poem off the top of my head. I think of this phrase

    "Keep Calm and Carry On"


  21. It's late in the day.. but never to late for poetry. This:
    anyone lived in a pretty how town
    E. E. Cummings, 1894 - 1962

    anyone lived in a pretty how town
    (with up so floating many bells down)
    spring summer autumn winter
    he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

    Women and men(both little and small)
    cared for anyone not at all
    they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
    sun moon stars rain

    children guessed(but only a few
    and down they forgot as up they grew
    autumn winter spring summer)
    that noone loved him more by more

    when by now and tree by leaf
    she laughed his joy she cried his grief
    bird by snow and stir by still
    anyone’s any was all to her

    someones married their everyones
    laughed their cryings and did their dance
    (sleep wake hope and then)they
    said their nevers they slept their dream

    stars rain sun moon
    (and only the snow can begin to explain
    how children are apt to forget to remember
    with up so floating many bells down)

    one day anyone died i guess
    (and noone stooped to kiss his face)
    busy folk buried them side by side
    little by little and was by was

    all by all and deep by deep
    and more by more they dream their sleep
    noone and anyone earth by april
    wish by spirit and if by yes.

    Women and men(both dong and ding)
    summer autumn winter spring
    reaped their sowing and went their came
    sun moon stars rain