He was not of an age, but for that one time!

Posted on May 18, 2013 by


I rarely get asked to write commemorative poems, but when I do I feel like I’m connecting to ancient traditions, to times when the bard’s song was a monument as important as any statuary. There’s also an interesting challenge in pleasing a specific audience rather than the imaginary, amorphous readers or listeners that I hope to please when composing in general. Part of the challenge is making something that I am pleased with artistically while also staying true to the event at hand.

This week I finished writing and read a poem for a colleague’s retirement. Even though she’s been an art teacher for thirty years, she has more poems committed to memory than I do. I’ve heard her recite from Chaucer, Browning, Coleridge, and Whitman. She’s been supportive of my writing and has expressed to me something like, “Poetry is the height of human expression.” So, yeah, no pressure.  And to some degree there wasn’t. There couldn’t be. I’m totally outclassed by those poets.

About a month ago, I talked to her in the cafeteria about her favorite artists. She mentioned Elizabeth Barrett Browning and “Sonnet 43.” She mentioned Debussy and “La Mer.” (I realize now that she may have said “Clair de Lune” and I goofed this thing from the beginning.) I tried to bring these artists together and say something meaningful for her. I hope she was as pleased as she seemed. I was honored to be a part of an event for such a kind and unique person.  The poem I read and presented to her is below:

Instead of Staring at the Sea
(For Quita)

Instead of staring at the sea
(With interest steadily waning),
Debussy reportedly said
That he’d prefer a painting.

And then for the first edition
Of his symphonic sketches
Depicting the sea, he chose
“The Great Wave,” which stretches,

In this particular view,
Even above Mt. Fuji.
It’s possible Hokusai
Captures the “ends of Beauty”

Mrs. Browning mentions. The white
Spikes of foam, like clawed hands,
Growing from the blue and black
Depths could crumble Holy Mountains.

Mrs. Browning also wrote of
the limits of “Ideal Grace”—
Only the sublime can kill the sublime.
I wonder if Debussy traced

This earthly power that stands
Over the little men in the little boats,
That reminds us we must risk
Drowning in order to float.

Posted in: Notes, Opinion, Poetry