Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Art of Losing

Dirge Without Music
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts
in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Dirge Without Music” from Collected Poems © 1928, 1955 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Norma Millay Ellis. Reprinted with permission of Elizabeth Barnett, Literary Executor, The Millay Society. Online Source: Collected Poems (HarperCollins, 1958)

Also in The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, Edited by Kevin Young, (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010).

I sat in the morning March sun's warmth on the floor in front of my old poetry books, wondering where to shelve The Art of Losing, marking my place, but reading ahead. The page fell open to this poem on page 103, the last in the chapter headed Regret. I began to read, and for reasons unknown to me, I reread the first sentence aloud. Then the entire poem. Aloud. Louder.
I made it through, but tears burned by the last verse, my voice shaking with regret and indignation. I felt it in my soul.
I reread the last two sentences several times.
Aloud, to myself, to the world.

When my tears were finished, I felt weary, but cleansed somehow.
I will carry these thoughts in my head now. I do not approve. I am not resigned. Perhaps someday, but not yet. Maybe when I've finished the chapter called Redemption.

This book is filled with some of the best poetry covering every facet of grief, loss, mourning, life and death. Highly recommended. Cathartic.
A suitable, healing gift for anyone who has lost someone they love.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

East of Eden

"I'll want to hear," Samuel said. "I eat stories like grapes."

It has been decades since I read a book by John Steinbeck, although I remember being very touched and transported by them all these years later. It's a good thing I waited so long to read East of Eden, because I would not have been capable of appreciating all the subleties and layers hidden among the pages. I would have devoured it for the story alone, which is a masterpiece in itself, but I might have missed the point and the beauty in the meaning behind the words.

I've recently read some excellent multigenerational sagas by exceptional authors - John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River and Jeffery Lent's In the Fall - steeped in story, place and complex, unforgettable characters. Now I know that John Steinbeck did it first, and did it best, telling us "the story of my country and the story of me."

I was working at a school book sale, talking books, when an English teacher recommended East of Eden. She told us her son, and English major, recently read it as well, and they both felt it was the best book they had ever read. I agree.