Friday, February 02, 2018

`Strike Most Out of Love'

“And you think of Tichborne writing in his tower,
Of his darkened hourglass, his unspun thread,
The dawn come like a boat upon the Thames.”

A blocked poet might almost envy Chidicock Tichborne (1562-1586) and his mortal inspiration. He sat in the Tower of London, a Catholic guilty of plotting the death of Queen Elizabeth. He was executed the following day, age twenty-four, after writing and sending to his wife “My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,” and we still read his elegy after 432 years. Tichborne belongs to that elite rank of poets remembered for a single poem. In this case, a remarkable one, made entirely of one-syllable words:And now I live, and now my life is done.”
The lines at the top are from Dick Allen’s “After Reading Tichborne’s Elegy” (The Day Before, 2003). Allen died the day after Christmas, age seventy-eight. His seventy-four-line poem is a discursive ramble around his world. Such essayistic blank verse is almost fated to turn out lumpy and self-indulgent because few poets possess minds sufficiently interesting to sustain such a loose-but-orderly project. Allen makes for good company:

“You think of strangers,
 Thousands of them, passing you in a mall,
 Cirrus clouds laid low, each one that passes,
 A tiny mystery: you are walking
 Constantly through their slowly moving edges
 As they are through yours. What is required,
 Or if not required, allowed? And if you have
 The will to change the world, yet lack the power,
 Are you accomplished in the eyes of God?”

Near the end Allen colonizes Grant Wood’s great Stone City into his poem:
“. . . and you lift your head
 Once more from all things asking you to live
 For those who suffer, all who speak no longer
 Of terror, wonder, and you see upon the wall
 Your print of Wood’s Stone City where a man
 Rides a huge white dray beside a windmill
 Still as everything the artist froze to stone:
 Stone bridge, stone river, and great fields of stone
 That will not break though you must strike at them.
 Strike hard, strike fast, but strike most out of love.
 Cling to this day until its flanks are stone.”

Allen trained himself to see the essential in the passing and ephemeral. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Tischeborne poem reminds me of Esenin:

No regret I feel, no pain, no sorrow,
Blossom blows away, a song is sung.
Overcome by autumn gold, tomorrow
I myself shall be no longer young.

You'll not throb, heart, as before, but tremble,
Feeling chills that you have not yet known.
In bare feet you shall no more be tempted
Through the birch-print countryside to roam.

Roving spirit, ever now less often
Do you rouse a flame upon my lips.
Freshness I have lost, keen looks forgotten,
Feelings running at full flood I miss.

I'm austerer now in my desiring.
Life, were you real, or of fancy born?
It's as if in spring I've been out riding
On a pink horse in the vibrant dawn.

In this world of ours we all are mortal,
Copper leaves from maples gently slide…
Ever blest was I to be accorded
Time for blossoming before I died.