Dear friends and readers,
Two days ago I wrote on my old Sylvia blog a posting on why these Winter Solstice rituals are peculiarly painful; last year on this day I posted W. S. Merwin’s poem, “Thanks”. Well after supper tonight, I was reading Anthony Hecht’s poetry, which Jim liked, and found his favorite among the books by Hecht we have: The Hard Hours. I had earlier in the day remembered an old ditty Jim used to sing or recite around this time in his imitation (fair) of Hampshire dialect:
Christmas is coming. The goose is getting fat,
please to put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha-penny will do,
if you haven’t got a ha-penny, God bless you.
He’d smile that teasing smile of his. He was thinking about how we’d escaped ending up desperately poor (something that could have easily been) — as if we were Dickensian characters on Guy Fawkes day (he’d then mention bonfires sometimes), or were like Tiny Time who managed to live: Jim once said in response to my father trying to make a cheerful toast on Christmas day, in a falsetto, “God bless us everyone.”
Now I found in Hard Hours, a poem by Hecht which explicated the rhyme — perhaps a bit too heavily, tediously, overdone, but well-meant, connecting the dire poverty and violence of our world to
Christian and natural winter imagery, William Cowperesque even:
CHRISTMAS IS COMING
Darkness is for the poor, and thorough cold,
As they go wandering the hills at night,
Gunning for enemies. Winter locks the lake;
The rocks are harder for it. What was grass
Is fossilized and brittle; it can hurt,
Being a torture to the kneeling knee,
And in the general pain of cold, it sticks
Particular pain where crawling is required.
Christmas is coming. The goose is getting fat.
Please put a penny in the Old Man’s hat.
Where is the warmth of blood? The enemy
Has ears that can hear clearly in the cold,
Can hear the shattering of fossil grass,
Can hear the stiff cloth rub against itself,
Making a sound. Where is the blood? It lies
Locked in the limbs of some poor animal
In a diaspora of crimson ice.
The skin freezes to metal. One must crawl
Quietly in the dark. Where is the warmth?
The lamb has yielded up its fleece and warmth
And woolly life, but who shall taste of it?
Here on the ground one cannot see the stars.
The lamb is killed. The goose is getting fat.
A wind blows steadily against the trees,
And somewhere in the blackness they are black.
Yet crawling one encounters bits of string,
Pieces of foil left by the enemy.
(A rifle takes its temper from the cold.)
Where is the pain? The sense has frozen up,
And fingers cannot recognize the grass,
Cannot distinguish- their own character,
Being blind with cold, being stiffened by the cold;
Must find out thistles to remember pain.
Keep to the frozen ground or else be killed.
Yet crawling one encounters in the dark
The frosty carcasses of birds, their feet
And wings all glazed. And still we crawl to learn
Where pain was lost, how to recover pain.
Reach for the brambles, crawl to them and reach,
Clutching for thorns, search carefully to feel
The point of thorns, life’s crown, the Old Man’s hat.
Yet quietly. Do not disturb the brambles.
Winter has taught the air to clarify
All noises, and the enemy can hear
Perfectly in the cold. Nothing but sound
Is known. Where is the warmth and pain?
Christmas is coming. Darkness is for the poor.
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you.
From the poem from which Hecht’s title is taken:
Adam, there will be
Many hard hours,
As an old poem says,
Hours of loneliness.
I cannot ease them for you;
They are our common lot.
During them, like or not,
You will dream of me …
Think of the summer rain
Or seedpearls of the mist;
Seeing the beaded leaf,
Try to remember me
from far away …
This morning Yvette is playing an old rousing tape from Sesame Street, a “Sing-along”, which she burned to a CD, very cheerful, she is singing along and clapping.
This is from this very record album she and Caroline had when they were children (long-playing 33), and this song Jim used to say if he heard once more he’d go nuts: he could recite this one too:
as Caroline could recite sections of E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, read by him, that Yvette loved to listen to so.
Going over to twitter to see how Caroline is getting on, and I discover Yvette’s just tweeted: having looked for something not “Totally Fucking Awful” (as a parodic New York Times front page headline has it on the Net), she found (as so many have) the Fergusson public library. The one bright spot one can find in that whole city is its library, and it has not been shut down nor even cut but is said to be thriving! Yvette has, as you know, gotten a permanent Federal job (as permanent as anything can be nowadays) as a librarian at the Pentagon this year.