No Road Without a Scene

Hello, Stress. I haven’t missed you, because you never go away long enough to be missed.

Thankfully, my heart is still feeling well, despite complications with the drugs they have me on, but that leaves me more time to focus on mundane stresses. School is mostly busywork this semester with no real challenges, I’ve been working hard on a submission for a recent call that turned into a much bigger project than expected, and I’m putting together a more cohesive portfolio for a potential job at a game company (stay tuned!). Actually, I’m rather excited about the potential for the last one. And due to this interest, I’ve somehow become hopelessly addicted to Diablo 3. With the advent of the 2.0 patch, it’s a whole new beast.

Yes, video games, my old love. She’s come back to haunt me. Heather and I have been leveling a couple Diablo 3 characters in preparation for the expansion coming out later this month, and while it’s been ages since I’ve allowed myself to step back from work to just soak up art and entertainment, I think the time away has made my current indulgence all the more energizing and therapeutic. The only problem is that when I step away from my work, I start to get stressed out about the fact that I’m … well, you know, not working.

So I’ve turned to the poetry of Richard Wilbur. Some of these pieces are so meditative and calming to me, and speak with such a soft yet insistent voice, they command my attention, force me to slow down, to observe. I’d like to share them with you.

Perhaps the most marvelous thing about Wilbur for me is that I tend to hate rhyming poetry. While I have an appreciation for the timeless work of many poets, including many traditional formal poets, rarely does that appreciation extend to personal pleasure. This man’s work is a different story.

 

If ever there was a musical poem that avoided the pitfalls of sing-song cadence, it’s A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra. I heartily encourage you to read the entire piece at the provided link, and to read it aloud, without forcing the lines (don’t pause at the end of lines unless punctuation so dictates). The last 5 stanzas in particular are soul-thrumming:

            If that is what men are
Or should be, if those water-saints display
The pattern of our aretê,
What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,

Spangled, and plunging house?
They are at rest in fulness of desire
For what is given, they do not tire
Of the smart of the sun, the pleasant water-douse

And riddled pool below,
Reproving our disgust and our ennui
With humble insatiety.
Francis, perhaps, who lay in sister snow

Before the wealthy gate
Freezing and praising, might have seen in this
No trifle, but a shade of bliss—
That land of tolerable flowers, that state

As near and far as grass
Where eyes become the sunlight, and the hand
Is worthy of water: the dreamt land
Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass.

From Collected Poems 1943-2004 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004).

 

Likewise, Love Calls Us to the Things of This World retains a musical quality without succumbing to it, and is as much lilting and soulful as it can be piercing.

                     Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

Such a grand and peaceful image, yet contrasted with:

                                             The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day …

And from these the last stanza distills itself, so mortal, as naturally and dauntingly of the world as sunrise:

    Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
“Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance.”

From Collected Poems 1943-2004 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004).

 

Lastly, I want to share the entirety of one of my favorite poems. While short, this is a display of deft English so petal-soft and concrete-hard that I can’t tell whether it’s more a comfort (and it is) or the presentiment of a bottle of Jameson. This has spoken to me since I first read it many years ago, and seems to speak even more as my years wear on. So until next time, I leave you with “The Sirens”.

 

The Sirens
by Richard Wilbur

I never knew the road
From which the whole earth didn’t call away,
With wild birds rounding the hill crowns,
Haling out of the heart an old dismay,
Or the shore somewhere pounding its slow code,
Or low-lighted towns
Seeming to tell me, stay.

Lands I have never seen
And shall not see, loves I will not forget
All I have missed, or slighted, or foregone
Call to me now. And weaken me. And yet
I would not walk a road without a scene.
I listen going on,
The richer for regret.

 

All poems and portions are here reprinted with the permission of Harcourt, Inc. None of this material may be reproduced in whole or part without the express written consent of the publisher.

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