Monday, August 17, 2009

`Punished Happiness'

This morning a reader in New York City told me how much he enjoyed Edgar Bowers' “The Falls” and how it reminded him of a visit to Seattle that had confirmed his impression the Pacific Northwest is the most beautiful part of the United States. This is a man who has lived in Europe, Africa and many parts of the U.S. His estimations of landscape – and poetry – are worthy of attention. Here is the closing stanza of the Bowers poem:

“The passages of change that has no stop,
And thought the thought that Shakespeare thought a death;
But knew the charm for a temptation, when,
The next day, we came to the falls, a psyche
Manic from rock to rock and bank to bank,
Furious from the snow-cloud and the snow,
Running, as if all broken sound and mist,
Tormented to its punished happiness. ”

On the way to Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland we stopped at Mill Creek Falls, the tallest falls in Cuyahoga County at a mere 45 feet, and the place where the steel industry got its start in the city. One moment you're driving through a neighborhood that has known its share of “punished happiness,” and the next you're standing above a falls dashing down a terrace of slate. The effect is not Wordsworthian but Bowers-like – abrupt, tormented, unexpectedly sad – “a psyche / Manic.” Signs along a rail line paralleling the creek say “Chicago 605 Miles” and “Pittsburgh 167 Miles.” We saw sycamores and Ailanthus altissima, and I picked the hard, green fruit from a butternut tree.

Lake View Cemetery is the resting place of President James A. Garfield, assassinated in 1881. We climbed his monument and viewed his coffin and his wife's in the lower-level crypt. Buried in the same cemetery are John D. Rockefeller, Eliot Ness, Garrett Augustus Morgan (inventor of the gas mask and three-color traffic signal), Raymond J. Chapman (the only major league baseball player to die due to injuries suffered during a game) and many of Cleveland's city fathers and mothers.

Why do we leave the most beautiful landscapes to the dead? Lake View is called “Cleveland's Outdoor Museum,” and doubles as an arboretum. We saw buckeyes, tulip trees, tulip poplars, gingkos, white, black and red oaks, American beeches and Japanese thread-leaf maples. We saw two female white-tail deer, grazing by the side of a road, more beautiful than the Tiffany window we saw in Wade Chapel. Even Gray noticed the trees in his church-yard:

“Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.”


Levi Stahl said...

The eighty-ninth anniversary of Ray Chapman's death passed yesterday, observed here and there by baseball writers, brought to mind by a couple of fortunately non-lethal incidents over the weekend wherein ballplayers took baseballs off their heads.

Fran Manushkin said...

For a school assignment in seventh grade, I remember collecting leaves from thes trees in Chicago's Rosemont Cemetery. I lived a few blocks away but never went back. Perhaps there should be informal botany walks offered in cemeteries--maybe one for each season. I'd go!