POETRY FOR A MAN TURNED SIXTY: A token of gratitude
Some thoughts, a brief, personal interlude. Tomorrow, I will become sixty years old. For me it's neither dramatic, nor significant, not even strange. Nothing to celebrate. I would like my birthday to be as it usually is. The morning sun streaming in through the corners of the black pulldown, while I lay in bed waiting for my family to come into the room singing that odd song I assume only my closest of kin know: Small red raspberries, flowers and greenery are placed around the plates, gracefully and attractively, today it´s Jan´s birthday. I think it was my maternal grandmother who came up with both the tune and the text. They bring me a homemade cake with sixty candles and a few simple gifts. Something that makes me feel appreciated, even loved. I will now spend the night in our house in Bjärnum, where the lake is close by and the forest still flourishes in the summer´s lush greenery, something that adds to my profound feeling of privilege and happiness.
I perceive much of my childhood in the light of the Nordic nature; forests, lakes, meadows and gravel roads. How it all smelled in the summer heat, but also during the damp chill of rainy days. Like many others, I imagine that I grew up in a time of transition. I was a young man when the late sixties turned into the serious and "conscious" seventies, when introverted speculations gave way to political action and communal engagement.
I will not write about my life, since that would be as meandering and long-winding as my previous blog posts, I just want to state that in my youth and childhood I loved to stroll alone in the forest, feel its presence; to be alone, yet not alone.
There was a time when I read Lyrikvännen, a monthly poetry magazine, as well as a lot of other verses and rhymes. However, commitment and political correctness encroached on the poetry. The ideal of the time was clarity, simplicity and joint action. In a half-hearted way I was part of that, though deep inside me I remained the petty bourgeois romantic I have always been. Of course I talked politics, read and listened to the agitation that swept over me during my university years in Lund and sometime during that period of my life the new poetry died for me and now it is very seldom that I am moved by current lyrics, much of which I do not even understand.
Without being particularly musically gifted, I am often shaken, even intoxicated, by music. In the seventies I got the feeling that nature began to recede from the rock´n roll ballads I appreciated and listened to. The immense, almost religious magnificence of nature that for centuries had been an integrated part of many of the great songs, it was as if it had lost its force and only appeared as sudden gushes of wind, like How can the wind with so many arms around me get lost in the City? a few lines from a song by Yes that my tragically departed friend Claes Toft used to quote, just as he often repeated Jethro Tull's skating away on the thin ice of the New Day, particularly when we together went to have an early breakfast at one of Lund´s cafés. However, the all-embracing, incomprehensible and at the same time poignant nature seemed to slip away from poetry. Was I like so many others doomed to become alienated from it? Maybe not – I´ve been fortunate to have close and sensitive friends who have been able to bring me back on track, reminding me about what good poetry is and repeatedly made me aware of the invigorating power of nature.
It a happens that I am wondering if many of those who are young today would be able to sink into and be delighted by a poem by Harry Martinson, as when he writes:
Soon the winter tree carries
nightly attempts at frozen memories.
There is a will,
the frost reads it all.
The tree, once strong with cheeks like apples,
commands forth its wintry fairy tale.
There is so much breathtaking natural lyricism. A source from which you may clench your thirst with refreshing, ice cold water. Here is Werner Aspenström speaking about the autumn:
Spiders mend their broken webs
- you remain in the summer.
Though the wind slowly turns toward north,
and even for the asters death is all that´s left.
And even if the fire crackles,
you smell black grass and acid.
One morning you are awaken by a dog:
October barks like a shaggy dog.
And greatest of them all, Gunnar Ekelöf in his A reality (dreamed), once brought to me by a dear friend:
I do not believe in a life after this one
I believe in this life.
When the sap does not rise anymore and I reached
the late summer, my season of the year, I remember
how I once heard anguish in the crickets´ screeching,
I have ceased to do so now.
It´s already dim
and the gravel road´s narrow, reddish stretch
is lost in groves, runs out of groves:
After every bend there is a mystery
of colours and the life of their light.
It is nice to walk,
an old stone fence is also there.
This is the moment when stones are thinking
This is the moment when this enormous creature
breathes, emits its fragrance. What colours in the dusk!
Liliac trees, stones in thoughtfully shifting blue
and the leafy forest so rich in hues
as if it was its own rustling.
A yellow leaf remains a treasure.
On one side a cornfield,
on the other a pine forest
and the corn turns red to yellow, but golden brown in the sheaves,
and the gravel road, shining red like a seashore.
I love such simple roads,
just for walkers and heavy wagons drawn by pious horses.
For me, such roads are as good as any life philosophy.
And every landscape, every change in it,
contains all feasible landscapes
and this life contains all feasible life:
the crickets´, the glowworm´s, the badger´s - all conceivable lives.
And this life will continue, continues
higher and higher up, other spheres
breathe this life,
that also is the life of the evening clouds and the stars,
and the uninhabited worlds
and the invisible life, and that of the dead,
because there is no other life.
And all of them shall live
and all will give their life to others and lend their light to everyone
and all will hide their light and live by and through others
and this is not a good, nor an evil,
it only is.
There is a feeling of happiness that rarely comes, but comes
It is in the confession of our consciousness,
this “being there” .
Volatile is all our consciousness
but volatility is not vanity.
That´s how my bucolic song comes to an end.
It happens that I suspect that many of my sixty years old fellow citizens, who once were caught up in the progressive bewilderment, now irrevocably have been deprived of a great deal of poetry´s enchantment. Politically correct pundits who once assumed that reflection and religion were nothing else but narcissistic drivel, who refused to see poetry in life and nature. Many of them have in their old days made their way back to their inner life, but sadly lacking in them is nature's great enigma. It is rare to find nature´s genuine breath in current poetry. I want to enter there again, into the woods, into the lakes. It is a lie to state that poetry no longer takes hold of me, but it's usually old poetry. I have become nostalgic, a visitor to lost worlds, within a forgotten time.
Is it my age? I do not feel old at all, nevertheless it happens that I am caught by a slight anxiety at the thought that maybe I have not been able to convey to my daughters, or to my students, the joy I have found in nature and met in poetry. Do they understand the words and terms used by Martinson and Aspenström, men who grew up in a world where you lived in the forest, where you were part of nature? They knew the names of all the creatures and plants they were surrounded by, names that in themselves where poetry. Nature molded poets, who like Ekelöf in his poem, were engulfed by it. They did not feel like many youngsters who nowadays are alienated from nature, considering it as corrupted and destroyed by pollution and misuse. Too much political correctness makes them ill at ease when they are confronted with the wild growth and apparent cruelness that reign within it. Pre-programmed thinking within a predictable existence of cause and effect makes them insensitive to the unfathomable mystery of nature. A modern, technological world that sometimes makes me ill at ease, turns me into a relic of antiquated thoughts, apt to understand what Ekelöf hints at when he writes : "I am a stranger in this country, but this country is no stranger to me!" Though the great poet also have consolation at hand:
Yes, to be one with the night, one with myself, with the candle’s flame,
that looks me in the eye, unfathomable and tranquil.
One with the aspen that trembles and whispers.
One with the hosts of flowers leaning out of darkness, listening
to something I had on my tongue but couldn´t articulate,
something I could not reveal even if I could do it,
it murmurs inside me of pure happiness!
We humans are an integrated part of nature, which is both good and evil. Evilness is almost unbearably painful, like what at this very moment happens in places like Gaza, Iraq or Nigeria. Where people like you and me torture and kill people like you and me. However, in spite of all this there is that triumph of existence that the young genius Edith Södergran wrote about while she was dying from tuberculosis:
What do I fear? I´m part of infinity.
part of the entirety´s limitless strength.
A lonely world within millions of worlds,
a star of the first magnitude, the last to be extinguished.
A triumph to live, triumph to breath, triumph to exist!
Ice cold time runs through our veins.
Listen to the quiet river of the night,
stand on the mountains under the sun.
I walk on sunshine, rest on sunshine,
know nothing but sunshine.
The small and the big life, my family that comes to me with the birthday cake and sings to me. Outside my warm and cozy room, there in the wild, in the neighbourhood, on the other side of the sea, at this precise moment, as well as in the past; there are my friends, those who I love and who love me back. They have made me happy, they make me happy.
The little life, the big life. The intimacy and pleasure of having been blessed by a family, something that many find false, selfish and even insignificant within the wide perspective of a suffering humanity. A point of view that probably is one cause to why words like love, happiness and compassion have been soiled, deemed as hopelessly banal and often banned from the communal discourse. In spite of this we all know and have been struck by the short, glimmering moments of bliss and well-being that make life worth living, as Werner Aspenström wrote: "like a woman´s hat with an inserted needle, a cheap thing, but it shines beautifully."
So - now at the threshold of my sixty years, I thank you all. You who hear me, who reads me now and all of you who cannot hear me since land, sea or time divide us from one another, death has also taken some of you. But you are all here with me and I thank you for allowing me to meet you and for everything you gave me. Thanks to you, because of you, I am never alone and I do not want you to be that either.