Beauty, and grace, and wit are rare;
And even intelligence:
But lovelier than hawthorn seen in May,
Or mistletoe berries on Innocent's Day
The face that, open as heaven, doth wear --
With kindness for its sunshine there --
Good nature and good sense.
Walter de la Mare, Inward Companion: Poems (Faber and Faber 1950).
Revisiting his poetry over the past few weeks, I noticed these qualities more acutely. I suspect this is due to the contrast between the humanity one finds in de la Mare and his poems and the unedifying spectacle we have been witnessing the past few months, which is the antithesis of all that is embodied in his life and art.
Looking for old favorites, I came upon this:
Ah, Stranger, breathe a sigh:
For, where I lie,
Is but a handful of bright Beauty cast:
It was; and now is past.
Walter de la Mare, The Complete Poems of Walter de la Mare (Faber and Faber 1969).
David Muirhead (1867-1930), "English Landscape"
"A handful of bright Beauty." How lovely. When it comes to poetry, one thing leads to another, doesn't it? Something floated to mind. So I took one of Norman Ault's fine anthologies down from the shelf and turned the pages to this:
An Epitaph for a Godly Man's Tomb
Here lies a piece of Christ; a star in dust;
A vein of gold; a china dish that must
Be used in heaven, when God shall feast the just.
Robert Wild (1609-1679), in Norman Ault (editor), Seventeenth Century Lyrics from the Original Texts (Longmans, Green & Co. 1928). The poem was first published in 1668.
I am no doubt getting old and cranky, but the 17th century seems like a seemly and hospitable place to me these days. Does one reach a point in life where one feels that one has had enough, that it is now time to depart? "But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,/With an alien people clutching their gods." A different century, a different set of gods, yes. And yet . . .
David Muirhead, "Woodland Scene" (1918)
"A star in dust." Another lovely thought. Another stepping stone. I went to another shelf and sought out this:
What is Death? A Life
smaller simpler ones.
W. H. Auden, from the sequence "Shorts II," in Collected Poems (Faber and Faber 1976).
"A handful of bright Beauty." "A star in dust." "A Life/disintegrating into/smaller simpler ones." Three thoughts randomly and unexpectedly coming together. I do not place them here in an attempt at edification. (The last thing I am in need of at the present time is unasked-for edification, thank you. Thus, have no fear, dear readers, I am not a member of the edification police.) As I have said here before, I am easy to please. This is nothing more than a report on how I spent an evening. Frolic and detour.
I did not begin my evening expecting to have these three poems reappear. But this is the way poetry works. A poem that touches us never vanishes. Who knows when it will return?
One day an unbidden gift unaccountably arrives at our doorstep. Where did this come from? One thing leads to another.
Onto the rain porch
from somewhere outside it comes --
a fallen petal.
Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959) (translated by Steven Carter), in Steven Carter, Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology (Stanford University Press 1991), p. 443.
David Muirhead, "The Avenue" (1901)