Good Poem #15 – Lecons de Tenebres

Australian Clive James, born in 1939, is a living poet.  Here is his take on the regrets that advancing age brings us all.

The title can be translated as lessons from darkness or from shadows and refers to heavy, slow-moving baroque classical music written to go with tenebrae religious services.

“… seeing how the years have brought
a fitting end, if not the one I sought.”

Lecons de Tenebres

By Clive James

Clive James

But are they lessons, all these things I learn
Through being so far gone in my decline?
The wages of experience I earn
Would service better a younger life than mine.
I should have been more kind. It is my fate
To find this out, but find it out too late.

The mirror holds the ruins of my face
Roughly together, thus reminding me
I should have played straight in every case
Not just when forced to. Far too casually
I broke faith when it suited me, and here
I am alone, and now the end is near.

All my life I’ve put my labour first.
I made my mark, but left no time between
The things achieved, so, at my heedless worst,
With no life, there was nothing I could mean.
But now I have slowed down, I breathe the air
As if there were not more of it there.

And write these poems, which are funeral songs
That have been taught to me by vanished time.
Not only to enumerate my wrongs
But to pay homage to the late sublime
That comes with seeing how the years have brought
A fitting end, if not the one I sought

Good Poem #14 – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Dylan Thomas’ advice for growing old:  “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953)

Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

 Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Good Poem #13 – Nancy Hanks

I’ve always liked this poem that imagines Lincoln’s mother wondering about little Abe since she died when he was only 9.  It seems appropriate as Mother’s Day approaches.

“Did he get on?”

Nancy Hanks

by Rosemary Benet (with husband, Stephen Vincent Benet) – 1933

Rosemary Benet

Rosemary Benet

If Nancy Hanks
Came back as a ghost,
Seeking news
Of what she loved most,
She’d ask first “Where’s my son?
What’s happened to Abe?
What’s he done?”

“Poor little Abe,
Left all alone
Except for Tom,
Who’s a rolling stone;
He was only nine
The year I died.
I remember still
How hard he cried.”

“Scraping along
In a little shack,
With hardly a shirt
To cover his back,
And a prairie wind
To blow him down,
Or pinching times
If he went to town.”

“You wouldn’t know
About my son?
Did he grow tall?
Did he have fun?
Did he learn to read?
Did he get to town?
Do you know his name?
Did he get on?”