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Category: a poem to ponder

“Death is nothing at all…” – Henry Scott Holland

St_Paul's_by_Thomas_Hosmer_Shepherd_(early_19th_century)

     “St Paul’s Cathedral 

 

           Thomas Hosmer Shepherd


                          _____________

 

upon learning of the recent demise 

of my younger sister, my only sibling,

a friend sent me the following passage

 


    “Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away 

     into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains 

     exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we 

     lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we 

     were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar 

     name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put 

     no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or 

     sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we 

     enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my 

     name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be 

     spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. 

     Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. 

     There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death 

     but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because 

     I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, 

     somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing 

     is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was 

     before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we 

     meet again!”


 

it is usually presented as a poem, but 

was part of a sermon, rather, given by 

Henry Scott Holland, the very pastor 

who composed it, at St Paul’s 

Cathedral, in London, after the death 

of Edward Vll

 

listen

 


it expresses well the experience I’ve

had with others of my beloved 

departed

 

intimations of my sister are already 

popping up in my reality, soon, I told 

another friend, I’ll be talking to her 

more often than when she was not 

gone

 

much as is the case with my father, 

for instance, away some 30 years 

now, but an abiding presence, 

however mystical, still, and, 

it appears, forever

 

I consider myself profoundly 

blessed

 


R ! chard

 

 

 

on ego, in particular, mine

luncheon-in-the-studio-1868.jpg!Large

       “Luncheon in the Studio (1868)

 

                 Édouard Manet

 

                      _________

            

you think I’ve got a big ego, I asked
friend who’d just told me I had one,
not confrontationally 
but as a matter
of fact, I wasn’t offended, just curious,
I think I’m so humble, I answered,
usually, so deferential

she wouldn’t cede to my, to her,

manifestly improbable, argument 

 

what do you call ego, I asked

 

what the definition is in the dictionary,

she answered, and pulled out her cell

phone to prove it

 

sure, I said, I know what the dictionary 

says, but how does that apply to me

 

well, just what it says, she said

 

my mother reads in the paper that it’s

going to rain today, I said, then it 

doesn’t, and I retort that only the 

weather essentially knows about the 

weather, but she still keeps to the

prognostications

 

one night I said, look, mom, the moon 

is full, no, she answered, it’s a quarter 

moon, it said so on the calendar, look, 

I said again, it’s full, it’s a full moon, 

but she wouldn’t believe me, it turned 

out she’d been reading the previous 

year’s almanac 

 

print gives us Platonic ideals, standards

that we think definitive, I asserted, but 

everything is in the eye of the beholder, 

words are just approximations, nothing 

but meeting places where we toss around

disparate ideas no firmer, nor distinct,  

nor assured than conversations among

different languagesmiscommunication 

can be that wide 

 

my friend tells me just talking like that

is proof of my big ego, but I still don’t 

get it, I think I’m so courteous, 

fundamentally, so congenial and, you

know, nice, otherwise 

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

the conditional

if-once-you-have-slept-on-an-island-1996.jpg!Large

    “If Once You Have Slept on an Island (1996) 

 

           Jamie Wyeth


               ________

 

the conditional mood is easy, it always

follows if 

 

     if I had a hammer, for instance

 

or

 

     if I were a rich man

 

it is not a real event, as Classical 

representation would be in art, were I

to make that synesthetic juxtaposition,

which is to say, were I to replace the 

visual sense with that of letters, but

rather like Surrealismfor instance, 

in that other context, a superimposed

idealization

 

here’s a poem you’ve probably 

already heard, or heard of, through 

its final, and epochal, verse, Kipling’s

If“, a towering instance of moral 

suasion on our culture

 

       If you can keep your head when all about you

           Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

       If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,   

            But make allowance for their doubting too;  

       If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

          Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

       Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

           And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

        If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

            If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

        If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

           And treat those two impostors just the same;   

        If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

          Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

        Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

           And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

      If you can make one heap of all your winnings

            And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

      And lose, and start again at your beginnings

           And never breathe a word about your loss;

        If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

          To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

       And so hold on when there is nothing in you

          Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

        If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

           Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 

        If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

            If all men count with you, but none too much;

        If you can fill the unforgiving minute

           With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

        Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

           And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

   

in the spirit of juxtaposition, compare 

that to Polonius’ admonition to his son,

Laertes, upon that young colt’s imminent 

return to France, where he had earlier

been, reputedly, carousing

 

       Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!

       The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,

       And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!

       And these few precepts in thy memory

       See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

       Nor any unproportioned thought his act.

       Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

       Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

       Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

        But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

        Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware

        Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,

        Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

        Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

         Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

         Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

         But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

         For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

         And they in France of the best rank and station

         Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

         Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

         For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

         And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

         This above all: to thine ownself be true,

         And it must follow, as the night the day,

         Thou canst not then be false to any man.



from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”act 1, scene 3,

all, incidentally, in the imperative, the mood

of command, authority, however consequential

there, or not

 

 

 a film called “If…” is also worth visiting 

in this context, from the 1970s, with an 

iconic soundtrack that gripped the

generation then that heard it, listen,

watch, the Missa Luba, be gripped

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

a juxtaposition of verb moods

 

       the-wanderer-above-the-sea-of-fog.jpg!Blog.jpg

           The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (1818) 


                   Caspar David Friedrich

 

                         _______________

 

 

a cardinal rule, the juxtaposition of two 

things of the same sort will exponentially

increase the information gleaned of either

 

therefore the following

 

The Impossible Dream“, listen 

 

       To dream the impossible dream

       To fight the unbeatable foe

       To bear with unbearable sorrow

       To run where the brave dare not go

 

       To right the unrightable wrong

       To love pure and chaste from afar

       To try when your arms are too weary

       To reach the unreachable star

 

       This is my quest, to follow that star

       No matter how hopeless, no matter how far

       To fight for the right

       Without question or pause

       To be willing to march

       Into hell for a heavenly cause

 

        And I know if I’ll only be true

       To this glorious quest

        That my heart will lay peaceful and calm

        When I’m laid to my rest

 

        And the world will be better for this

        That one man scorned and covered with scars

         Still strove  with his last ounce of courage

         To fight the unbeatable foe

         To reach the unreachable star

 

and Climb Every Mountain, listen again

 

        Climb every mountain

        Search high and low

        Follow every byway

        Every path you know

 

        Climb every mountain

        Ford every stream

        Follow every rainbow

        ‘Till you find your dream

 

        A dream that will need  

        All the love you can give

        Every day of your life

        For as long as you live

 

        Climb every mountain

        Ford every stream

        Follow every rainbow

        ‘Till you find your dream

 

        Climb every mountain

        Ford every stream

        Follow every rainbow

        ‘Till you find your dream

 

 

an initial similarity, they are both

inspirational

 

an initial divergence, the former is 

in the infinitive mood, which is to 

say that the lesson is for all time

in all places and for all people, 

while the second is an imperative,

in other words, an exhortation,

something only pertaining to the 

future, though the other conditions,

of place, and of person, can still 

apply  

 

note that the verse, in either, is in 

the indicative, in keeping with, in

each, the altered air, the second,

and contrasting melody, which in

both, note, personalizes, makes

the recommendation actual, no

longer merely idealized, the

indicative is the only mood which

deals in facts, the other moods

are all imagined, dreamed

 

let me point out that in comparison

with songs in the indicative, love

songs and the like, the show tunes

above find their source in medieval

religious music, hymns, liturgical

stuff, and more recently,

comparatively, specifically in

England after the Protestant

Reformation with Handel’s both

church and ceremonial music

 

in which England went on to

specialize, incidentally, while other

forms of music there, the racier,

secular European stuff, had been

demonized, deemed sinful, and

thus proscribed

 

England would only get its mojo back

in the 1960s with the Beatles

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

       

the infinitive in Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be”

philosophy-and-grammar.jpg!Large

     Philosophy and Grammar 

 

           Gentile da Fabriano


                  __________

 


when I referred to Shakespeare’s 

perhaps most famous monologue,

To be, or not to be, in my most 

recent transmission, in order to 

shed light on the idea of tempi, 

that it would parallel Beethoven’s

Opus 111 in its philosophical 

significance, however might’ve I 

done so unintentionally, was

nevertheless quite spot on, it is

perhaps his most potent

disquisition, as is Beethoven’s

own masterpiece, on existence

 

but let me extrapolate

 

to be, or not to be, both infinitives,

which is to say that their form, their 

moodrelate to infinity, the infinite, 

etymological correlatives, which 

means that the actions, thus, are 

not localized, not specific, but 

belong to all places at all times and

for all people, the very stuff, let me

point out, of philosophy 

 

whether ’tis nobler in the mind to 

suffer, infinitive, the slings and 

arrows of outrageous fortune, or 

to take, infinitive again, arms 

against a sea of troubles, and by 

opposing end, bare infinitive,

which is to say, without the

preposition to, them  

 

as in  

 

to die, to sleep, infinitives, no more, 

and by a sleep to say, infinitive, we 

end the heartache and the thousand 

natural shocks that flesh is heir to, 

’tis a consummation devoutly to be 

wished, passive infinitive      

 

you’ll find that the rest of the 

soliloquy abounds in infinitives,       

the grammatical home, the 

territory, of philosophy

 

with this speech, incidentally, 

Shakespeare kicks off, in

literature, the Renaissance, much

as Beethoven with his Opus 111

firmly establishes, in music, the

Romantic Period


compare, meanwhile, thou shalt 

not kill, an imperative, the mood

the tenor, the register, is of 

commandments, it differs from 

the infinitive in that, though 

seemingly universal at first, there 

is an exception to its authoritative 

span, and that exception is the 

speaker, all others are called upon 

to abide, this is not philosophy, 

this is power 


 

much as in music, see in that context

my earlier text, one can read an awful 

lot between the lines

 

 

R ! chard

allegros – Mozart / Schubert quintets

trout-and-reflected-tree.jpg

                     Trout and Reflected Tree (1985) 


                                    Neil Welliver


                                       ________

 

allegros are ubiquitous in the repertory,

you can find them everywhere, so I won’t

say much about them but that they’re 

the next step up from andante, therefore 

sprightly, energized, they’ll often start, 

or end, sonatas, and their derivatives, 

string quartets, concertos, symphonies, 

et cetera, engaging listeners, at first,

then wishing them a cheery farewell, 

after an often melancholy middle spell, 

they’re here again in the two following 

quintets, not unexpectedly, at the 

beginning of each, and at their end

 

Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A major,

KV 581

 

           l – Allegro

          ll – Larghetto 

         lll – Menuetto

         lV – Allegretto con Variazioni

 

allegretto is slightly slower than 

allegro

 

larghetto, meanwhile, is slightly faster 

than largo, largo is slower even than 

adagio, so that larghetto is somewhere 

between the two, you’ll melt, believe 

me, at this one

 

Schubert’s Piano Quintet, also in

A major, D 667, “The Trout”

 

           l – Allegro vivace

          ll – Andante

         lll – Scherzo (Presto)

         lV – Theme and Variations (Andantino)

          V – Allegro giusto

 

thirty years have elapsed between 

them, from 1789 to 1819, listen for

the Classical Period becoming the

Romantic Era

 

a clue, you can sing along with the

Mozart, you can’t anymore with the

Romantics

 

a quintet, incidentally, was usually 

comprised of a string quartet,

however varied these strings, note,

might have been, with whichever 

instrument would make up a fifth, 

according to which the quintet was 

identified, thus a clarinet quintet was 

clarinet with a string quartet, piano 

quintet, a string quartet plus a piano

 

other variants will follow

 

enjoy

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: the theme in the fourth movement 

          variations of The Trout is from a

          lied, or song, Schubert had earlier

          composed around a poem of

          Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart

          hence the quintet‘s nickname  

 

on a personal note

roses.jpg!Large

    Roses (c.1886)

 

          John Singer Sargent


                     ____________

 


on a personal note, since I prefer longer 

pieces, something I can sink my teeth 

into – I like them when they’re long, I 

always say – which led me into spending 

33 years with Proustfor instance, page 

by page, so that I could breathe it in, him, 

tend to veer towards music with several 

movements, be they serial, as in sonatas, 

symphonies, concertos, Classically 

speaking, of course, or haphazard, as 

in the more loosely associated suites

 

rather than smelling merely the rose,

as in a simple waltz, nocturne, étude,

I want to revel in the aroma of an

entire garden

 

therefore the three hours of Liszt‘s

Années de pèlerinage“, for example, 

even Wagner‘s daunting five hour 

operas, individual portions of his 

towering, indeed epic, four-part 

“Ring” cycle, enthral me 


these are high masses, and if you 

subscribe to the faith, the experience 

they allow can be transformational,

however such may still be, 

nevertheless, a mere rose, a mere, 

but epiphanic, rose, as is, for 

instance, the exquisite Opus 10, no 3

of Chopin, “Tristesse”, or Sadness, 

inveterately, for me 

 

a rose, a creation as unique as we 

are, in our shared, however unevenly

apportioned, mortality, proud, sturdy,

protected by thorns, even, meanwhile, 

as we are, in our own manner, against 

our own existential vicissitudes 

 

but vibrant, also, ever, drenched in 

any of its several arresting colours, 

fragrant, poised, full of perfect grace, 

as we should be ourselves, I’ve told 

myself, not only with regard to their 

beauty, but to their inspiration, 

whether a deity exists that we 

might be beholden toincidentally, 

or not

 

Shostakovich has something poignant

to say about that, also Beethoven, but 

that’s another story, for later, maybe, 

however, either, powerfully 

consequential

 

until then, l’important, as we sing in

French, c’est la rose

 

or heed, it says, in other, but 

nevertheless ever instructive words,

the wisdom of very nature

 

I live by it

 


R ! chard

“a simple story” – R ! chard

book-of-time-oil-painting-18-x-24-2014-xm.jpg!Large

   The Book of Time (2014) 

 

         Nina Tokhtaman Valetova


                     ______________

 


ferreting through old papers the other

night, I foundin a forgotten corner of 

my closet, this poem, I thought it had 

some merit 

 

         _________

 

a simple story, 

 

                   mine.

                               Like yours,

     it has its moments

           — passion,

                pain,

                         to each in similar proportions

                              (I’ve also had a broken heart,

                                and you are happy too, sometimes) —

 

     moments telling tales, a lot, for me

         of this

         or that

                       — and every tale is true, in time, 

                                                             of everyone —

 

     moments that pass,

            one,

                     and then the next,

                                                       just gone,

                                                       like that,

 

     and apart from what is here,

                           right here — this black and white —

     this thirtieth day in May,

                           nineteen seventy-nine,

           its 13:48,

                then 49,

                                        are gone,

 

                                        just gone,

                                        like that !  

 

                                                R ! chard

 

from act 4, scene 3 – Othello

jealousy-from-the-series-the-green-room-1907.jpg!Large

 

when Desdemona learns that Othello

suspects her of adultery, she asks 

her maidservant

 

      Dost thou in conscience think,–tell me, Emilia,–
      That there be women do abuse their husbands
      In such gross kind?

 

Emilia, older, wiser, replies

 

      There be some such, no question.

 

 

       But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
       If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
       And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
       Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
       Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
       Or scant our former having in despite;
       Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
       Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
       Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
       And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
       As husbands have. What is it that they do
       When they change us for others? Is it sport?
       I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
       I think it doth: is’t frailty that thus errs?
       It is so too: and have not we affections,
       Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
       Then let them use us well: else let them know,
       The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.

 

 

fall” in the second verse, for this is 

indeed a poem, in iambic pentameter, 

could easily be replaced by “fail

nearly even calls out for it, 

homophones but for the timbre of 

their vowels 

 

say that their husbands slack, she says,

then lists the several manners in which 

husbands might betray their marital 

duties, by “foreign, she means “other“, 

foreign to the family circle  

 

laps“, incidentally, is a wonderful 

metaphor to accompany “treasures,

suggesting intimate physical contact,

much more so, say, than hands

would’ve, for instance, been

 

restraint” means conditions, stress,

impositions  

 

scant our former having“, to diminish

that which formerly had been given,

of either material or psychological 

goods – “having” is a noun here, not

a participle

 

in despite, which is to say, “out of 

spite

 

galls“, a synecdoche for internal

organs, a synecdoche, the word

that means a part which signifies

the whole  

 

affection” is “lust

 

 

we’re equal partners, Shakespeare 

says, men and women, in a shared 

humanity, indeed Shakespeare is

one of the first Humanists after  

centuries of religious subjugation,

centuries of the suppression of

independent thought, a defining

notion, not incidentally, of the

Renaissance

 

 

R ! chard

 

happy birthday, Joni Mitchell

clouds

  Nuages / Clouds 

 

      Fernand Léger

 

         _________

 

                         for Lajla, and, of course, Joni

 

in my German class in Dresden, I

was asked, since I was from 

Canada, to translate into German

a Canadian song, my teacher

suggested something of Joni 

Mitchell, someone she profoundly,

she said, admired, was I the one

to choose Both Sides Now“, or 

was she, I can’t remember, but 

that was the song I translated


Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way


But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all”

it could be my anthem

 

 

as it happened, Lajla, my teacher, who

who has since become a dear friend, 

in fact, meine beste deutsche Freundin, 

didn’t let me finish reading meinen 

übergesetzten Text for the class, it 

would’ve been too long

 

I still regret the unrecognized work

I did, but mostly I rue the fact that  

the other students never got to 

hear the sublime ending of the

song

 

 

R ! chard