She slow walks the hope that others tango away, with that fermented sway she blends like warm cashmere, sari fragrant in folds full to embrace high-strung husband or the frightened chit at full-speed running into a silken bungalow, avatar of lighthouse flashing “no amount of grave concern not handled here,” and behold, juggernauts vanish beneath her feet of frangipani, ethereal gold.
American poet E. E. Cummings never wanted his name printed without capitals, but somehow he became anthologized that way. And no, he never legally changed his name to lower case either. It’s true most of his poems were written without caps, reflective of his simple, pared-down writing style.
He reveled in his New Hampshire surroundings and saw in its landscape resonances with his inner life. In fact, he spent more time painting than writing poetry.
As we give thanks to God for all His good gifts, shelter and food, family and friends, and the common pleasures of life, one Cummings poem stands out, whose first line is “i thank You God for most this amazing.” Here it is with an accompanying audio recording of his reading below.
i thank You God for most this amazing day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any—lifted from the no of all nothing—human merely being doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
E.E. Cummings (1950)
This poem was originally published in Xaipe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950). Xaipe is a nonphonetic transliteration of the Greek χαῖρε (chaire), meaning “rejoice.”
Inspired by the Georges de La Tour painting below, the following poem attempts to give an added voice to the eloquence of Tour’s work by “unmuting” Job’s wife. As a character in the Book of Job, a Gentile living during the time of the patriarchs, Job’s wife is not prominent. But, perhaps, she delivers the most bitter blow to Job. Through her, we hear the voice of Satan speaking most directly to Job when she asks, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). In the midst of his sufferings, I believe Job’s greatest challenge was to withstand this voice and choose to trust God.
No, Job, I didn’t sign up for this. The ships lost at sea, drowning spices Camels marauded, flocks lit into carrion husks Children buried by an ill-wind where they danced And my jewels? Bartered for funeral meats
Shall I proclaim it for posterity, inscribe in stone Your endless complaints, the hollow sounds Of jagged grief and friends’ scorn? Look at me! Washing our rags, hiding my shame From the maids that I once kicked out of doors
Job, I didn’t sign up for this, my darling. Your boils how they stink where they fester Open wounds that run dry and break open again The prayers that you whisper late into the night While in the city they dance and they dine
Gentiles we are, not of Abraham’s tribe! The God you both serve has given you hell So leave it, I tell you; curse Him and die! Don’t live like a fool trusting Him with your life When a stillborn child has much better luck
I heard you this morning sing like a lark, Of your God who will come to intercede and save Who with your own eyes you will see at last So you’ll wait, diseased, though you’re slain. You’re mad!
The sacrifices you offered once smoked to the sky Yet you speak of a Redeemer as if he were a man But, husband, what broken body, what blood can make clean Hearts bitter with hate, tongues wicked with deceit? This God that you worship is too holy, too proud Do what I say! Curse Him and die!
I didn’t sign up for this! Do you hear? I didn’t sign up for this.
Job 19:19-27 All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth. Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me? Why are you not satisfied with my flesh? Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
Roughly reworked from an earlier version for dVerse "Poetics: "Exploring the Narrative Voice," guest hosted by Ingrid. Thank you, Ingrid for a superb prompt.More dVerse poems, at Mr. Linky's.
After my half year of blogging, my fellow bloggers have made me appreciate anew how many words are “set free” to reveal inner worlds, many of which have enhanced mine. Thanks to those like WalliesWentletrap.com who have made 2014 a memorable year with their “words” – pressed or wrinkled! And a Happy New Year of blogging!
Wallie on Words
If words go in one ear and out
With all the meaning left without
How sad it is for little words
To know they are not ever heard.
How sad for letters black on white
To know their only hope is sight
And yet it’s lovely too, that we
Can speak the words, and set them free.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …
The great French artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, suffered so much from rheumatoid arthritis that it was difficult for him to paint due to progressive deformities in his hands and shoulders. The painting on the left, “Young Girls at the Piano” (1892), was done when he first developed the disease.
Yet when a friend said, “You have done enough. Why do you torture yourself?” Renoir replied, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
William Blake, writing in the eighteenth century, was an unusual fellow (take a close gander at his drawing above), a printer by trade and a great poet by vocation. He quite unaffectedly combined in his person and poetry a certain childlikeness that can catch you off guard with its pointedness, like a child’s penetrating stare, a sharp goad to the smug and self-righteous. The above poem is an instance of this.
For starters, “The Clod and the Pebble” makes you wonder at the order of the stanzas, whether they weren’t inverted accidentally in the printer’s press. Why, after all, let the Pebble have the last word? Why not the inglorious Clod? But that wouldn’t be Blakean at all! Imagine a child fed at Sunday School the sweet word of God by one in the robe of authority who sees that same one later in the week intemperately cursing the day an incorrigible brother was born. Which impression is the lasting one? Which would it be to you? It was hardly random that Blake chose to include this poem in his Songs of Innocence and Experience collection under Songs of Experience.
The deceptively simple verse leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, like the world usually does, like worldliness in ourselves when we catch ourselves at it.
It makes me wonder too, as I walk the road of sanctification as we all must as Christians, how far down the road have I come? Am I still more of the Pebble than the Clod?
And one last thought. Doesn’t the last word of the poem resonate with a particularly fine invocation of Satan’s response to God’s creation of Eden?
Inspired by the Georges de La Tour painting below, the following poem attempts to give an added voice to the expressive eloquence of Tour’s work by “unmuting” Job’s wife. As a character in the book of Job, his wife is not prominent but, perhaps, delivers the most bitter blow to Job. Through her, we hear the voice of Satan speaking most directly to Job when she asks, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). In the midst of his sufferings, I believe Job’s greatest challenge was to withstand this voice and choose to trust God.
It is no wonder that Virginia Woolf entitled a collection of essays on writing “A Room of One’s Own” since not only does a writer’s room occupy a space all its own, like a creative work or an individual’s life, but it maintains the boundaries of that space with enclosing walls formed at its conception. Only a doorway admits entrance or exit both to the occupant and visitor. And whatever that “room” may be, however modest or grand, private or public, man-made or natural, we leave one room only to enter another which in turn we leave for another. It is this sense of leave-taking that we see played out in our lives and in our occupations, but also in the interior spaces of the imagination as artists and storytellers, scholars, and critics.
In our lives, we pass through places, events, times, and histories, our own history intersecting with others’, passing from one day to the next until time stops. As writers we leave the “real” world with its ready-made structures and demands into a self-created world which may or may not bear a resemblance to any we have known.
But leave-taking in its many forms is not an easy job, and the dynamics of its interplay between the leaving of one room for another creates an uneasy tension.
There is an entrance that must be made and, more often than not, what we see is a closed door. Maybe even locked. Perhaps only slammed shut by an unceremoniously hostile exit echoing with the finality of rejection. It doesn’t matter that you yourself may have slammed it shut, stung by criticism or scorn or frustration at fruitless effort. The closed door dares you to approach it once more and make your entrance.
Our culture glorifies man, not God. It has turned the Gospel to a social do-gooder’s tool so that we turn all our God-given creative energy to social tasks and neglect to glorify God with our offerings of beauty, not just in church architecture but also music, literature, drama and art. Secular educators and media have succeeded in making us feel guilty if we “waste” our money or time by spending it on buying or creating works that attempt to magnify the Father we love, to show forth His glory to the world in gratitude for all we have received. This manipulative guilt has crippled us, so that there is hardly a church on earth that will spend a penny on supporting their own artist, novelist, screenplay writer, classical musician, or architect, and if they do, I suspect they gut the work of its guts, so to speak, so that a Shakespeare (uses bad words), a Michelangelo (nudity) or a Bach (is that really praise music?) is shamed into submission or flight. So the truth we see in beauty belongs to another age, when a Notre Dame (with the gargolyles) was built, a place where people, when they walk in, gasp in astonishment at what man labored to make, only to glorify His maker!