Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Blues

I haven't posted much the last few days. I'm fighting the existential blues with the Word of God. Sometimes the Word wins, but the blues win all too much. This Sunday, my husband and I are flying to my hometown of Middletown, NY for a few days. He has never been there, and it is important to me in some way I'm not sure I understand that he see where I grew up. The house my father built and that I lived in for 23 years, was sold about 10 years ago and I'm sure is very different. It will feel strange not to be able to go inside, to belong there. My elementary school, the Catholic school I attended until 7th grade, the huge old stone library where I first realized I could take out any book I wanted, the roads I walked every day to school, and later to work. I don't plan to go back again, so this is kind of a goodbye, I guess. Besides, the place exists forever in my memory exactly as I remember it - fragrance of memory - and that's what is important.

I've always had a bent toward melancholy. They say that is something characteristic of Slavic people, of which I am at least half. I've also always had a fascination for time, and for the photos and moving pictures that captured moments forever. I love to look at old photographs and try to see details in them, look into a person's eyes in the photo and imagine the moment when the flash had gone off, and the person walked away into time.

It reminds me of a very melancholy poem that I read in "A Children's Garden of Verse" by Robert Louis Stevenson. This volume is very sentimental and the poems there remind me of the way I thought when I was very small and felt very secure. Some of the poems by virtue of their very beauty are sad. Here is the one that breaks my heart the most:

To Any Reader

As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear, he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.

Here is another, much longer that speaks of growing old and nevermore to be children, except in eternity:

To Minnie

The red room with the giant bed
Where none but elders laid their head;
The little room where you and I
Did for awhile together lie
And, simple, suitor, I your hand
In decent marriage did demand;
The great day nursery, best of all,
With pictures pasted on the wall
And leaves upon the blind –
A pleasant room wherein to wake
And hear the leafy garden shake
And rustle in the wind –
And pleasant there to lie in bed
And see the pictures overhead –
The wars about Sebastopol,
The grinning guns along the wall,
The daring escalade,
The plunging ships, the bleating sheep,
The happy children ankle-deep
And laughing as they wade:
All these are vanished clean away,
And the old manse is changed to-day;
It wears an altered face
And shields a stranger race.
The river, on from mill to mill,
Flows past our childhood's garden still;
But ah! we children never more
Shall watch it from the water-door!
Below the yew – it still is there –
Our phantom voices haunt the air
As we were still at play,
And I can hear them call and say:
"How far is it to Babylon?"

Ah, far enough, my dear,
Far, far enough from here –
Smiling and kind, you grace a shelf
Too high for me to reach myself.
Reach down a hand, my dear, and take
These rhymes for old acquaintance' sake!
Yet you have farther gone!
"Can I get there by candlelight?"
So goes the old refrain.
I do not know – perchance you might –
But only, children, hear it right,
Ah, never to return again!
The eternal dawn, beyond a doubt,
Shall break on hill and plain,
And put all stars and candles out
Ere we be young again.

To you in distant India, these
I send across the seas,
Nor count it far across.
For which of us forget
The Indian cabinets,
The bones of antelope, the wings of albatross,
The pied and painted birds and beans,
The junks and bangles, beads and screens,
The gods and sacred bells,
And the load-humming, twisted shells!
The level of the parlour floor
Was honest, homely, Scottish shore;
But when we climbed upon a chair,
Behold the gorgeous East was there!
Be this a fable; and behold
Me in the parlour as of old,
And Minnie just above me set
In the quaint Indian cabinet!

Obviously, RL Stevenson was a child in Victorian England - and he has painted the loveliness of a privileged childhood of those times.

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