Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: poetry

Song of Myself – Walt Whitman

Excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.

I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.)

I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

My foothold is tenon’d and mortis’d in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.

Memorizing Mondays: O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman

Oh me!  Oh life!  of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring–What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.
That you are here–that life exists and identify,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Memorizing Mondays: Ozymadias

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said — “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. … Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings.
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

– Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelly

Revisiting the Wasteland

The nice thing about good poetry (or any other media) is that even if you don’t completely get it your first time, you can try again and get a little more every time you read it.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
and I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

We cannot peak about the roots and branches under the ground, because all we can see are the broken images and senses that the sun beats down on. Our view is hindered. We know only about the land of the living. And the land of the dead, beneath the red rock (a grave-maker?) is hidden and fearful. The shadow under this rock is different from the shadow at morning (youth) or from the shadow in the evening (old age).

How many poets have written about death? How many times have men and women of genius and insight been terrified by the handful of dust that awaits them?

But, I wonder, why do we look at the shadow?

Why do I look at the shadow striding behind me in the morning? Why do I gaze at it when it’s in front of me (though it is right before my eyes) in the evening? Why would I not, rather, look at the sun?

My shadow (the badge of mortality) is a small thing. It is not a part of me though it is related to me.

I cannot pretend to know exactly what happens under the red rock. I’ve never seen anything more than this heap of broken images, where the sun beats. But I find myself convinced that the sun somehow beats even under the red rock, though I’m not equipped to see it now. The shadow is a scary thing for me, true. But I don’t have that final fear Eliot is trying to express. I think that’s because I’m trying to look at the sun rather than my deepening shadow of morality.

It’s interesting, I think, that this poem was written years before Eliot converted to Christianity. I wonder what it would have said if he had written it after?

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The Deadly Handful

There is shadow under this red rock
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

I don’t pretend to understand T.S. Eliot. His poem, The Wasteland, is mostly beyond me. But I think I’m starting to understand what he means in this little excerpt.

A handful of dust is all there is left at the end of most lives. At the end of the day, when your shadow no longer strides before you nor rises to meet you, there is nothing more than a handful of dust. Death. Futility. Nothing left.

But I hope to have more than a handful of dust on the day I’m forced to go under the shadow of the red rock. I will secure something of value. I’ll do it through creativity. I’ll do with through Jesus.

That handful of dust fills me with fear. But I don’t think it’ll be my handful of dust. It won’t be mine precisely because I fear it. My fear of it pushes me to achieve more.

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Eliot’s Magi

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods
I should be glad of another death.

Thus wrote T.S. Eliot. He was taking the point of view of the Magi, after returning from the scene of the Nativity. The comparison of birth and death struck me.

Birth is painful and traumatic.
The same with death.
Birth is full of violence.
The same with death.
Birth is an event that comes against our will.
The same with death.
In birth we leave something familiar behind and go, for better of worse, into a deeper world.
The same with death.
Birth leaves us irrevocably changed.
The same with death.

Is death just another kind of birth? Sometimes.

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This is second-hand unless you’re reading it at http://www.theilliteratescribe.com