Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Look Thy Last On All Things Lovely, Every Hour"

In a recent post, I suggested that Elizabethan poets were preoccupied with the transience of our lives.  But transience is the implicit subject of all poetry, isn't it?  Any good poem is an attempt to arrest life as it escapes our grasp.  The same is true of any good painting.

A poet or a painter embarks upon this effort knowing that it is doomed to failure.  But therein lies the beauty of the undertaking.  (Pun not intended.) This fleeting World is -- despite human nature, despite our daily dose of the dispiriting news of the world -- an earthly paradise.  Would an unchanging Paradise be a paradise?

John Humphrey Spender, "Staked Rose" (1953)

                  Fare Well

When I lie where shades of darkness
Shall no more assail mine eyes,
Nor the rain make lamentation
     When the wind sighs;
How will fare the world whose wonder
Was the very proof of me?
Memory fades, must the remembered
     Perishing be?

Oh, when this my dust surrenders
Hand, foot, lip, to dust again,
May these loved and loving faces
     Please other men!
May the rusting harvest hedgerow
Still the Traveller's Joy entwine,
And as happy children gather
     Posies once mine.

Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour.  Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
     Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
     In other days.

Walter de la Mare, Motley and Other Poems (1918).

Our own individual transience is a given.  Time is short.  But humanity's attempt to momentarily halt that transience through poetry and painting is an unchanging constant that is bequeathed to all of us.

Josephine Bowes (1825-1874), "A Cornfield near Calais"


Patricia said...

What more is there to say?

Stephen Pentz said...

Patricia: Thank you very much for the comment, and for visiting. I hope that you will return soon.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful poem and helpful comments. We should all take it to heart, shouldn't we?

Margaret. Australia

Stephen Pentz said...

Margaret: Please accept my apologies for the delayed response to your comment: other commitments have kept me away from the blog this week. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. I'm pleased you liked the post: it is a wonderful poem, isn't it? In his poems, de la Mare often reminds us to focus upon what is important in life, and "Look thy last on all things lovely,/Every hour" is one of his most enduring reminders to each of us. It seems a simple thing to do, but we are always looking away. As you say, "we should all take it to heart."

Thank you very much for visiting. Please stop by again soon.