Monday, September 7, 2015

the sun and the rain

That Sanity Be Kept

by Dylan Thomas

That sanity be kept I sit at open windows,
Regard the sky, make unobtrusive comment on the moon,
Sit at open windows in my shirt,
And let the traffic pass, the signals shine,
The engines run, the brass bands keep in tune,
For sanity must be preserved

Thinking of death, I sit and watch the park
Where children play in all their innocence,
And matrons on the littered grass
Absorb the daily sun.

The sweet suburban music from a hundred lawns
Comes softly to my ears. The English mowers mow and mow.

I mark the couples walking arm in arm,

Observe their smiles,

Sweet invitations and inventions,

See them lend love illustration
By gesture and grimace,
I watch them curiously, detect beneath the laughs
What stands for grief, a vague bewilderment
At things not turning right.

I sit at open windows in my shirt,
Observe, like some Jehova of the west
What passes by, that sanity be kept.

It's interesting in a week's readings, how a poem speaks to another poem, or to words in a journal entry. Thought speaking to thought, across time, distances.

It's been ages since I read the Dylan Thomas poem. And there it is at the end of summer, waiting for me, waiting for when I have a bit of time to stare out windows. To think about my own sanity in writing poetry, in writing anything. The way that poems might contribute to a collective sanity, even if most of the population doesn't read any poetry.

At any rate, it's a bit of a vocation, sitting at windows, observing the world. One which at some times seems absurd, cruelly indifferent to the suffering of so many. But even in Thomas's poem, death is there, along with the mowers that mow and mow, and the couple who is bewildered that things may not turn out right.

As Merton says, any vocation is a mystery. Certainly a contradiction.

From an article on Thomas Merton in Parabola magazine:

“What on earth am I doing here?” Merton asked himself in a journal entry, mid-November 1957. 
I have answered it a million times. “I belong here” and that is no answer. In the end, there is no answer like that. Any vocation is a mystery and juggling with words does not make it any clearer.
It is a contradiction and must remain a contradiction. 
I think the only hope for me is to pile contradiction upon contradiction and push myself into the middle of all contradictions.

The house was quiet and the world was calm

by Wallace Stevens

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

The world in small pockets is calm and there is truth some summer nights, a reader leaning late. This, too, is a possibility. Though of course at the same time, the world is burning.

Rain Light

by W.S. Merwin

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning

When you are alone you will be all right. Maybe we need to hear this, too.

Look, says the mother in the poem. See.

Regard the sky, says Dylan Thomas.

O Stay where you are! Here
in the uncertain hour of a late afternoon
looking outward and looking in
I see this beauty
all I see is beauty.
Something that convinces, asks to be seen,
though it does nothing, just stays where it is,
and merely by existing wins me over.

- Patrizia Cavalli

Look at those things that ask to be seen. Of course the hours are uncertain. Of course they are. Look, and see beauty, too.

There has been sun this week and also rain. The news has been heartbreaking this week. The news is heartbreaking every week. The weight of the news can sit on our chest and dig its claws in. Our anxiety levels go up, without us quite knowing why until we sit and think about it.

I try not to repeat myself, too, too much on this blog, but there are things that I need to re-read, and perhaps you do too. So:

The weight of the world
is love.
Under the burden
of solitude,
under the burden
of dissatisfaction

the weight,
the weight we carry
is love.

- Allen Ginsberg

Look at the sky, says Anna Akhmatova. Take long walks.

I've learned to live simply, wisely

by Anna Akhmatova

I've learned to live simply, wisely,
To look at the sky and pray to God,
And to take long walks before evening
To wear out this useless anxiety.

When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
And the yellow-red clusters of rowan nod,
I compose happy verses
About mortal life, mortal and beautiful life.

I return. The fluffy cat
Licks my palm and sweetly purrs.
And on the turret of the sawmill by the lake
A bright flame flares.

The quiet is cut, occasionally,
By the cry of a stork landing on the roof.
And if you were to knock at my door,
It seems to me I wouldn't even hear.

There are no answers. Only these constant contradictions. There is light and darkness, sun and rain.

But I don't want to make any of this easy. This mortal life, the startling beauty, the suffering seen from afar. The suffering we see close up. I turn to Simone Weil:

“The capacity to pay attention to an afflicted person is something very rare, very difficult; it is nearly a miracle. It is a miracle. Nearly all those who believe they have this capacity do not. Warmth, movements of the heart, and pity are not sufficient.”

- Simone Weil, Waiting for God

This last week at the library I was helping someone find cookbooks, and we chatted about cooking techniques (she was after something particular in this regard) and then suddenly we were talking about her cancer, how many rounds of chemo she'd been through, how the doctors had given her a year to live. We talked about this for a while but then we returned to cooking techniques. She didn't want any pity, she wanted information on cooking. I'm not saying my interaction with her was any sort of miracle, but just that in my very limited experience, and in my daily work, I try to pay attention. I'm not always successful. Anyway, it's not something, I don't imagine, that most people associate with working at the public library - but on a regular and consistent basis, we encounter people going through difficult times. They have health concerns, mental health concerns, many of them are in crisis - financial, medical, domestic. I could go on. But am also really happy that we have outreach workers at the library who can substantially address these needs.

There were several times last week when the sunny early evening skies coincided with me both being off work, and also having the energy to take photographs. To feel creative.

And some mornings, as well.

The poppies are all but done now, and the runner beans (above) have done their best to take over their corner of the patio.

Chloe has been walking the dog with me in the mornings, and so I've had that pleasure. Even in the rain, she's come along, and the damp. 

Here she's taken the camera, and captured me and the reason behind all these walks, and thank goodness for that.

The walks are at a slightly different pace when she's along. I stop and take photos, while she goes ahead with Ace. They wait for me to catch up. We point things out to each other.

It's beautiful in completely other ways with her along. Which I suppose is why I'm becoming emotional this long weekend before she returns to school, grade 12, her last year. Knowing that things will change this year, and ongoing. As of course they must. But also feeling such gladness at walking with her, just walking. Hoping that she'll keep and know and take with her the solace of simply that.


  1. Simply Beautiful Shawna, Thank you.

  2. A beautiful, thoughtful post, Shawna, thank you. My youngest has joined the ranks of the school-going this year so I'm feeling a little emotional myself : ) I wish you and your daughter a good start to grade 12. xo

    1. Thanks, Leigh. Today's the first day. So many feels, as the kids say....

  3. So much emotion in all these contradictions, this post really got to me, in word and image. And yes, this will be a big year for you and Rob and Chloe, many changes to come, a very bittersweet time. But I think you'll find that there will still be many walks to come and they will become even more special over time. xo

    1. Bittersweet is the word, isn't it. Whew. I sure hope so, re: the walks.... xo

  4. I so love your posts, Shawna. I savour them slowly over the week. Thank you. Happy Last Year of Secondary to your lovely girl! XO

  5. Last Wednesday, we dropped my daughter off at college for her first year.

    In so many ways, I feel like that statement should say it all, but I find that it doesn't. Her departure has touched me so deeply, in so many ways. Sometimes I feel great and happy and excited for what comes next and other times I feel so lonely I can't breathe. It is going to take me a while to get my feet back under me, but people don't seem to understand that and it hurts. Enjoy your walks with your daughter, they are important and so very fleeting.

    1. This makes perfect sense to me. A Facebook friend linked to this article not long ago:

      I saved the article, because this will likely be me next year.

      Take such good care of yourself!

  6. I like all your posts, but this one in particular touched me. The Merton, the Merwin, Simone Weil and your reflections on paying attention. Thank you.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...