Thursday, February 28, 2008



He who binds to himself a joy
Does the wingéd life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.

William Blake, 1800

It is only natural, I suppose, to wish to grab hold of the joyous moments of our lives. The shining hours seem all too brief when laid against the everyday hours, the darker hours. We wish to make the most of the golden moments and the first instinct is to grasp at it, just as an infant grasps at an outstretched finger. But the act of grabbing, binding, only disperses the joy. It slips through our fingers like smoke, and swirls and disperses. So we must fight that first instinct, and allow the joy to come into our lives and pass out of our lives on its own schedule. Relish it, cherish it, never take it for granted. For that way, we can keep the memory within us, pure and radiant, without regret, without shame. And the memory of the joy is enough to sustain us until the next shining hour is upon us again.

Monday, February 25, 2008



I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading--treading--till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through--

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum--
Kept beating--beating--till I thought
My Mind was going numb--

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space--began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here--

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down--
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing--then--

Emily Dickinson, 1861

When I first read this poem, I assumed it was about death. I took the funeral imagery literally, and did not look further. The ending, particularily, struck me as the expression of the unknowable aspect of death.

But I was rather young and had not yet experienced what Emily describes here. It was only years later, after a bout of extreme mental stress that I gained a new insight to this poem. To ease the restless repetitive thoughts in my brain, I took to pacing. And the rhythm of that pacing was perfectly echoed in the poem. I could feel those same boots of lead in my head, wearing away at the thin layer of sense, and even through the numbness, I could hear the drums beating as well.

It was a time of strange dichotomy. I could see myself, as though from the outside, and I could see that I was losing my grip on reason. But at the same time, the thoughts crowded out that more rational view and I gave myself over to the rhythm of the pacing, and the rhythm of the thoughts.

The planks of reason held for me, though. I did not drop down and down. But the thought that I might have, that I came close to that loss of inner self-control haunts me to this day. Mostly, I think, because I do not know what brought me out of it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Good Night

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas, 1952

In Memoriam

Joseph C. Kopeck

January 22, 1914-February 23, 2008

for more about my grandfather, read this entry

Friday, February 22, 2008

Winter Continues

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens, 1923

I did have a mind of winter, many long years, and when winter came, I did not mind. It was all winter to me, then, so what did it matter that the ice outside reflected the ice within me?

Then I experienced a thawing and meltwaters carried the snow and ice away. And now I feel the cold wind and the ice approaching once again, and it is so cold it burns.

The difference this time will be, I hope, that the winter is only temporary. Some day, sooner or later, the wind will shift and blow mildly from the south, and the grass will be uncovered and the daffodils will push their way out of the earth. When that happens, I will drink it in, and welcome spring into myself, and I will make room for all the seasons within me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008



I died for Beauty -- but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room --

He questioned softly "Why I failed"?
"For Beauty", I replied --
"And I -- for Truth --Themself are One --
We Brethren, are", He said --

And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night --
We talked between the Rooms --
Until the Moss had reached our lips --
And covered up -- our names --

Emily Dickinson 1862

I have sought beauty all my life. It is easy to find, in Nature, in music, in people. It can be absorbed unconsciously and present itself later, or it can hit so hard, so unmistakably, it stuns and awes. Beauty can be seen and heard and felt, even smelled and tasted. When I forget for a while to collect the beauty, when I close my eyes and ears and heart to it, beauty seeks me out, stands before me and compels me to gaze upon it. And I remember again, and the world is new.

Truth is found in words, in thoughts, in deeds. It can be more evasive than beauty, and harder to take in. Many days I have walked in Nature, reveling in beauty, while hiding from truth. Where beauty is calm and soothing, truth can be sharp; it can hurt; it can agitate. But when it is recognized as truth, and therefore beauty, it can heal and renew.

I am accustomed to searching alone for beauty and truth. I have walked alone in forests and meadows soaking in the plants and birds and sky and earth. I have read poetry and prose that speak so honestly of life that I wept as I read it, and spoke to it of no one.

But I have had occasion, too, to share the wonderment that comes with the recognition of beauty and truth. To be hiking with a loved one, and to come over a rise to see a blanket of wildflowers laid at our feet, and gasping as one at the beauty, or to acknowledge to another soul the truth that lies within me, and to receive the gift of truth in return, these are the moments which shine in my memory. The joy that is born of beauty and truth is multiplied when it is shared, rather than divided. It is an odd arithmetic of the soul, but I know it to be true.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Cupid and My Campaspe

Cupid and my Campaspe played
At cards for kisses; Cupid payed.
He stakes his quiver, bow and arrows,
His mother's doves and team of sparrows,
Loses them too; then down he throws
The coral of his lips, the rose
Growing on 's cheek (but none knows how),
With these the crystal of his brow,
And then the dimple of his chin:
At last he set her both his eyes;
She won, and Cupid blind doth rise.
  Oh Love! has she done this to thee?
  What shall, alas, become of me?

John Lyly, 1632


A Red, Red Rose

O my luve's like a red, red rose,
  That's newly sprung in June;
Oh my luve's like the melodie
  That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
  So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
  Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
  And the rocks melt wi' the sun:
O I will love thee still, my dear,
  While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve,
  And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
  Though it were ten thousand mile.

Robert Burns, 1796


One Perfect Rose

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
  All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet--
  One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
  "My fragile leaves," it said, "his heart enclose."
Love long has taken for his amulet
  One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
  One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
  One perfect rose.

Dorothy Parker, 1926

Happy Valentine's Day. Pick your mood: infatuation, true love, or cynicism. Guess which one I'm going with today?

Friday, February 8, 2008


When I Have Fears

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piléd books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance,
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! --then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

John Keats 1818

In fact, John Keats did not have time to glean his teeming brain. He died in 1821, at the age of 25, which only adds to the wistfulness of this poem.

I have sometimes felt the pressure to describe all that roils around in my head, and feared I did not have the time to say it all. Life, whether it is lived for 25 years or 85, sometimes seems too short to see everything, learn everything, feel everything I wish to see, to learn, to feel. And I, too, sometimes crave Fame, or at least to know that what I have to say has been heard. To be heard, and understood, to know that the words and thoughts I cast out upon the world do not fall upon unhearing ears; I do crave that.

But then come other times. Other times when I seem to be standing alone upon the shore, and all seems so insignificant. What does it matter what thoughts I have had, what words I have written? All is fleeting, in the end. Every word and thought will surely be erased as though I had written them in the sand, and watched the waves smooth them away. In the end, come sooner or later, I will be forgotten. The joys and sorrows that are felt so keenly to me today will be gradually wiped out, filled in by the inexorable tide. The impression I leave behind will slowly fade, until it is as though I have never been, and no one will remain to think of me.

I am not sure if these thoughts are comforting, or terrifying. I suppose they are a bit of both.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hair be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

William Shakespeare 1609

This is my favorite of Shakespeare's sonnets. It is, to me, so much more romantic, more swoon-worthy, than Shall I compare thee to a summer day, which many people would probably identify as the Bard's most romantic sonnet. To be seen by a clear eye, to have one's imperfections acknowledged, and to be found fair, to be loved anyway, that would be something worth having. To be seen with the heart as well as the eye, and to have the heart triumph over the eye in the end, that is what I wish for.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Old Men

People expect old men to die,
They do not really mourn old men.
Old men are different. People look
At them with eyes that wonder when...
People watch with unshocked eyes;
But the old men know when an old man dies.

Ogden Nash

My grandfather is an old man. 94 years old. I visited him today, in his nursing home. It was a good visit, and a bad visit. The good part was that he was awake and sitting up, he could talk and did not fret or complain. Too much. The bad part was that I am not sure he knew who I was, and his eyes have changed color.

For 90 years of his life, he was a vibrant, stalwart, upright man whose blue-green eyes shone out of his sun-darkened face with a clear, piercing light. For 90 years of his life, he worked his lands, he worked with his hands, and he worked his mind. He went to college at age 16, graduated with an engineering degree two years later, and enjoyed a successful career as a tool engineer. He was filled with knowledge of birds and trees and building and gardening and he told endless stories of our family's history. He was steady on his feet, never sick, and ever thrifty.

When I was a child, he delighted in rubbing his stubbly beard on my tender arm, and he called me Sousa. After he retired, he spent his winters in Florida, and his summers on one hundred acres of land in rural Wisconsin. Part he rented out to a local farmer to plow, part of the wetland he drained to make a pond, and part he left wild. I remember summer Sundays, driving up the tire-tracks that crossed his land, grasshoppers leaping out of the way of the car. The family would gather, and we would pick raspberries, and play baseball, and eat potato salad. Then Grampa would hitch up the old blue trailer he had built himself to his sputtering tractor and we would tour The Farm. Down we went through the cornfield to the pond, where we would get out and look for snapping turtles and bullfrogs. Then we drove along the tree line, where we always seemed to get stuck in the mud or threaten to tip over, skirting the wetland where we could sometimes spot a pair of Sandhill cranes that returned year after year to nest. Then back up the hill at a precarious angle, we laughed while sitting crammed in the trailer, the youngest children on their mothers' laps, the older ones leaning out the side. And Grampa, driving the tractor, deliberately slowing down and speeding up, laughing and delighting in his family's mock terror. And his eyes shone out that piercing blue-green light.

Today, his eyes were a dull grey. His hands shook. He did not speak of the family. When I tried to interest him in a magazine filled with birds, he identified a goldfinch as a cardinal. And he did not call me by name.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Winter, again


There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons --
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes --

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us --
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are --

None may teach it -- Any --
'Tis the Seal Despair --
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air --

When it comes, the Landscape listens --
Shadows -- hold their breath --
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death --

Emily Dickinson 1861

When I tell people my favorite poet is Emily Dickinson, I often get a remark that she is too depressing. It is true that she writes about death a lot. She writes of death intellectually, questioningly, ambivalently, even tenderly, exploring the concept and inviting me to explore with her. Those poems I do not find depressing.

This one I do. It's been running through my head all day. I've had too much winter, I think. Literally and figuratively.