Ach, November. Could you have been a rockier month if you’d tried? As it’s nearly over and I remain horrified and bemused by so many things in the news – the spin cycle of politics, the repellent and continual violence within our country and outside its borders, the dark and the cold so many face mentally and physically – I am actively trying to find the light and the joy I will need to take me through. I might call this post “Keeping Faith, II” because it’s … a topic my mind goes around and around and around.
I’m on a Louis Untermeyer kick at the moment; he was a contemporary of Frost and Pound, but he was a jeweler in New York who only did poetry for a “hobby.” And yet, multiple volumes of poetry and children’s books throughout his lifetime, the “hobby” really bore fruit. The topic of these two poems – and the fact that the first was written as the events of WWI roared on – gave me a grim little smile. It was ever thus, this beating the bushes, trying to find the what does it all mean? and why must it be this way?
What are we bound for? What’s the yield
Of all this energy and waste?
Why do we spend ourselves and build
With such an empty haste?
Wherefore the bravery we boast?
How can we spend one laughing breath
When at the end all things are lost
In ignorance and death? . . .
The stars have found a blazing course
In a vast curve that cuts through space;
Enough for us to feel that force
Swinging us through the days.
Enough that we have strength to sing
And fight and somehow scorn the grave;
That Life’s too bold and bright a thing
To question or to save.
Louis Untermeyer, These Times (1917)
GOD, I return to You on April days
When along country roads You walk with me,
And my faith blossoms like the earliest tree
That shames the bleak world with its yellow sprays—
My faith revives, when through a rosy haze
The clover-sprinkled hills smile quietly,
Young winds uplift a bird’s clean ecstasy …
For this, O God, my joyousness and praise!
But now—the crowded streets and choking airs,
The squalid people, bruised and tossed about;
These, or the over-brilliant thoroughfares,
The too-loud laughter and the empty shout,
The mirth-mad city, tragic with its cares …
For this, O God, my silence—and my doubt.
– Louis Unternmeyer, The Little Book of Modern Verse, edited by Jessie B. Rittenhouse (1917)
Boy, that second one is kind of a kick in the teeth.
I’m grateful when I run across old poems like this, poems capable of examining the antithetical ideologies which most of us are constantly juggling. We human beings are complex; these poems reflect the complexity. More complex and philosophical poetry can be found this Poetry Friday at Tricia’s Miss Rumphius Effect; please stop by and be her November guests. Happy Friday.