Thursday, June 18, 2009

The World Is Heartsick . . . Or Is It?

Ever notice how sometimes it seems that when you listen to one person, you agree; you listen to someone else arguing with them and agree with that person too?

It reminds me of the scene in Fiddler On The Roof when there is an argument between a young radical student and an old villager. The men of the village stand around enjoying the spectacle.

The boy makes a good point, to which Tevye heartily chimes in, "He is right."

Then the elder absolutely rebuffs the boy, scoring a point in their impromptu debate. Tevye can't help himself, "He is right."

The village logician turns to Tevye. "He's right, and he's right? They can't both be right."

Tevye doesn't miss a lick. "You know? You also are right"
(quoted from recolection; probably not quite accurate quotes)

This was somewhat my reaction to reading the following poem by Hartley Coleridge. The poem struck a chord in me. I felt and agreed. The world is weary. While in the poem he is speaking to November (thus we can look forward to a May coming soon) I think he has in mind not only a November that comes once a year but also a long slow November of the Earth, the cosmos, God's patience, the naturalness of comforts in life. He is thinking, I believe, that all of the good creation is winding down, not just for a short winter, but perhaps for a very long one, a permanent one.


Hail, dark November ! spurious progeny
Of Phoebus and old Night,--thou sable mourner
That lead'st the funeral pageant of the year,--
Thou Winter's herald, sent before thy lord
To bid the earth prepare for his dread presence,--
I gladly wish thee welcome, for thou wear'st
No flaunting smile to mock pale Melancholy,
Which ever loves its likeness, and derives
From most discomfort, truest consolation.

The world is heartsick, and o'erwearied Nature
Bears, in her lost abandonment, the mark
Of ills expected, and of pleasures past,
And, like a late-repenting prodigal,
Deals out with thrift enforc'd the scant remains
Of lavish'd wealth, sighing to think upon
The riotous days, that left no joy unrifled,
No store reserv'd, to comfort poor old age:
The tip-toe levity of Spring, flower-deck'd,
And Summer's pride, and Autumn's hospitality
Have eat up all.

And now her festal robes
Are worn to rags,--poor rents of tatter'd state,
Telling a tale of mad, luxurious waste,
Yet not enough to cover nakedness,--
A garb of many hues, and wretched all.
There is a desperate patience in her look,
And straggling smiles, or rather ghosts of smiles,
Display the sadness of her wrinkled visage.
Anon, with gusty rage, she casts away
Her motley weeds, and tears her thin grey locks,
And treads her squalid splendor in the mire;
Then weeps amain to think what she has done,
Doom'd to cold penance in a sheet of snow.

That phrase, "the mark of ills expected" makes me think a friend I had when I was young. He had been beaten far too often, and he would flinch every time his father moved. Animals do that too. They run away from us. They bear the mark of ills expected. Deer run when they see us. They rarely let us get very close. But once when I was on horseback I rode right up to a deer. It neither flinched nor moved away. In fact it hardly glanced at us. I got the impression that the deer only noticed a horse, and had no idea of a human rider. Had it noticed me I've no doubt that it would have flinched just like my friend. Paul said that all of creation is constantly groaning--waiting to be released from the bondage that our sin has placed it in. In a sense the whole cosmos resents us, it is weary of bearing us and our curse. That is why God said it would "produce thorns and thistles" for us.

So I can feel and agree with what I hear in Hartley Coleridge's poem. But when I first read it I felt like Tevye, because I knew that I also heartily agree with Gerard Manley Hopkins.


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs-
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

So I ask myself, "He's right, and he's right? They can't both be right."
And I reply to myself, "You know? You also are right."



Mary Rae said...

Powerful poems, and I like the "Ills expected" and "pleasures past." I admit it..a Wordsworth poem is always just around the bend with me. But I thought how he begins his Intimations of Immortality with:

"There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore; -
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more. "

Sad longings for the past, for what has fled so quickly, to be sure. But by stanza 11 he writes:

"The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. "

And I think he comes full circle. As do the other poems in their own way.

Doug P. Baker said...

That is really beautiful! "The meanest flower . . . too deep for tears." I'm going to pull it out and read the whole thing.