Oct. 20, 2012

In Heaven It Is Always Autumn

by Elizabeth Spires

"In Heaven It Is Always Autumn"
         John Donne

In heaven it is always autumn. The leaves are always near
to falling there but never fall, and pairs of souls out walking
heaven's paths no longer feel the weight of years upon them.
Safe in heaven's calm, they take each other's arm,
the light shining through them, all joy and terror gone.
But we are far from heaven here, in a garden ragged and unkept
as Eden would be with the walls knocked down,
    the paths littered
with the unswept leaves of many years, bright keepsakes
for children of the Fall. The light is gold, the sun pulling
the long shadow soul out of each thing, disclosing an outcome.
The last roses of the year nod their frail heads,
like listeners listening to all that's said, to ask,
What brought us here? What seed? What rain? What light?
What forced us upward through dark earth? What made us bloom?
What wind shall take us soon, sweeping the garden bare?

Their voiceless voices hang there, as ours might,
if we were roses, too. Their beds are blanketed with leaves,
tended by an absent gardener whose life is elsewhere.
It is the last of many last days. Is it enough?
To rest in this moment? To turn our faces to the sun?
To watch the lineaments of a world passing?
To feel the metal of a black iron chair, cool and eternal,
press against our skin? To apprehend a chill as clouds
pass overhead, turning us to shivering shade and shadow?
And then to be restored, small miracle, the sun
    shining brightly
as before? We go on, you leading the way, a figure
leaning on a cane that leaves its mark on the earth.
My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been.
To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence
where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening.
The light is gold. And while we're here, I think it must
    be heaven.

"In Heaven It Is Always Autumn" by Elizabeth Spires, from Now the Green Blade Rises. © W.W. Norton, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet Arthur Rimbaud (books by this author), born in Charleville, France (1854). He began writing letters to the poet Paul Verlaine, whose work he admired, and Verlaine invited him to stay at his house. When he arrived, Rimbaud had his first masterpiece in his pocket, a poem called "The Drunken Boat" (1871), describing the journey of an empty boat as it wanders the ocean and eventually breaks apart.

Rimbaud didn't get along with Verlaine's family or his friends. He had a habit of taking off his clothes and shouting obscenities in public, and that tended to put people off. But everyone agreed that his poetry was the work of a genius and Verlaine fell in love with him. The two had a scandalously open affair that shocked the rest of the Paris literary scene. But they had a bitter break-up, and the relationship ended when Verlaine tried to murder Rimbaud with a pistol, shooting him in the arm.

Verlaine went to prison and Rimbaud went back to his mother, and he wrote one of his last books, A Season in Hell (1873). Rimbaud had been 16 when he started publishing his poetry, and he was 19 when he gave up on poetry and took off to wander around the world, winding up in Africa, where he became an arms dealer. He kept writing letters to his family, but he never wrote another poem, and never gave any hint that he missed writing them.

Rimbaud, who said: "I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still."

It's the birthday of the architect Sir Christopher Wren, born at East Knoyle, Wiltshire, England (1632). He designed many buildings, including the Windsor Town Hall, which building inspectors said was supported by an inadequate number of pillars, and so Wren added four more pillars, none of which touched the ceiling.

He's best known for his 35-year restoration of St. Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire of London (1666). He's buried in St. Paul's under the epitaph "Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice — Reader, if you seek his monument, look around."

It's the birthday of the poet Robert Pinsky (books by this author), born in Long Branch, New Jersey (1940). He was the first member of his family to go to college, and his parents were a little bit disappointed that he chose to study literature. In graduate school, his mother called him every week and reminded him that there was still time to take the optician's licensing exam. But he decided not to take that exam and instead got his Ph.D. in English and supported himself as a professor and a literary critic.

He's the author of 19 books, including Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town (2009), a collection of essays; and Death and the Powers, a libretto for composer Tod Machover.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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