Saturday, July 23, 2016

`Read and Write Without a Shadowed Care'

I’ve become the old guy who would sit on the park bench in the afternoon sun, feeding the pigeons and squirrels, except I have to work and don’t have time for idleness. Nor do I understand the notion of retirement. Golf? You’re kidding. I’m happiest when working, even if only pulling weeds or writing about faculty retirements. I’m fortunate: I enjoy my own company (a rare gift among humans) and enjoy what David Solway in Installations (Signal Editions, 2015) calls “The Art of Thinking”:

“. . . never disappointing the admiring gaze
and the confident patience
of the one who waits and watches.”

Solway’s poems often begin in observation and contemplation. He is not a notably meditative poet – probably too easily riled -- but certainly is more spectator than actor, which is only right for a poet. He uses lines from Book III of Keats’ Endymion as the epigraph to his own poem of the same name: “But the crown / Of all my life was utmost quietude: More did I love to lie in cavern rude.” Solway’s “Endymion” sent me back to Keats’, where I found this a few lines later:

“I would watch all night to see unfold   
Heaven’s gates, and Aethon snort his morning gold  
Wide o’er the swelling streams: and constantly          
At brim of day-tide, on some grassy lea,
My nets would be spread out, and I at rest.”

Aethon snorts because the Greek aithôn can mean “burning” or “shining,” but as an epithet it usually is applied to horses. Solway’s poem is a drawn-out double entendre, and not his best work. Better is a poem addressed to another Canadian poet, “A Letter to Robert Melançon on His Retirement.” Solway pays homage to Melançon’s Le Paradis des apparences (2004), translated into English by Judith Cowan as For as Far as the Eye Can See (Biblioasis, 2013). Melançon taught at the University of Montreal for thirty-five years and retired in 2007. In the poem’s final lines, Solway writes:

“And then, when time can spare you for the task,
you’ll pledge your lines beside the wooden shrine
of our Lady of Abundance, and find
you need not trade the freedom of your days
for all Arabia’s wealth or all the tomes
of Pergamum and Alexandria,
once self-sufficient on your Dunham farm,
once in your element of pastoral
where you may school the clamour of the age
and quell the dictates of eternity,
to plough and seed and reap without a hitch
and read and write without a shadowed care.”

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