Tuesday, January 07, 2014

`What Mind Conceives, Let Hands Enact and Make'

One of the first poems I resolved to memorize was Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” though I didn’t know that at the time. That is, I didn’t know the poem’s proper title, its author nor what a virgin was, technically speaking. I was eleven or twelve, and notably backward. My habit was to memorize things I liked for any reason, figuring that way I would always have them handy and could enjoy them even while out in the woods or trying to stay awake in study hall. I had no idea Herrick’s lyric was judged by some a poem of seduction, known as “make-out verse” to the guys in the locker room, or what carpe diem meant. I liked the poem’s sound (“The higher he's a-getting” – Kipling!) and the sense that the poet seemed to be talking directly to someone, not to the ether or some abstract reader. Maybe even to me. 

The first book by Marly Youmans I’ve read is The Foliate Head (Stanza Press, 2012), a poetry collection with illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Though she’s no writer of light verse, her touch is unfailingly light. One hears allusions to earlier poems and poets, but the echoes are delicate, not didactic. Here is Youmans’ answer to Herrick in “To Make Much of Time”: 

“Why must you fritter, twitter, play
And want fresh hours to the day?
Bend now, bend now to the work
That sings your name—or will you hark
Forever to what others do,
Even when less fraught than you
With gifts a fairy christening
Might envy? Did an angel wing
Disturb the air above your face,
Fanning those cradled silks and lace?
Yet soon enough the years fly on,
Turn gold silver, dandelion
Suns to gray-gilt clocks of hours…
And your easy springing powers
Will sink to dusk and dust, and wink
Away, like sun over the brink
Of Earth: what mind conceives, let hands
Enact and make, let spirit lands
And human lands unite in tale
And image—let new light prevail
Against the armies of the dark,
And be the wakened, daybreak lark.” 

We hear of social media and Shakespeare, and perhaps Milton and Chesterton. “Lark” is very nice – a bird and a caprice. Dr. Johnson said something comparable, though in more stately and solemn tones, in The Rambler #71: 

“As he that lives longest lives but a little while, every man may be certain that he has no time to waste. The duties of life are commensurate to its duration, and every day brings its task, which, if neglected, is doubled on the morrow. But he that has already trifled away those months and years, in which he should have laboured, must remember that he has now only a part of that which the whole is little; and that, since the few moments remaining are to be considered as the last days of Heaven, not one is to be lost.”

1 comment:

marly youmans said...

Thank you, Patrick Kurp! I have often dipped into your blog and am quite pleased to find myself in its pages.