Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Continuity and Suffering: Auden, Bruegel, Bishop & Me

My relationship to 19th and 20th Century Western poetry and prose is a bit awkward still. It's still not clear if I appreciate it for its beauty (and the genre is beautiful to me) or if as a reader and writer I feel to it the allegiance a child might feel to the home into which she has been adopted and raised after deciding to leave it. I have started to read poetry again, a practice that had become somewhat deadened to me in recent years. To be *able* to read is just a little better than writing to me; my first marriage was to reading and then to writing!

I started sharing my writing on this blog out of a desire to explore my suffering and healing. I continue to be intrigued by the human experience of suffering. I think that this year I have grown a bit and learned a few things about suffering. In this season of my life the two areas of suffering that I am paying close attention to are:

1. Suffering as a result of justice withheld
2. Suffering as a result of loss

My fascination with the second is personal, and the first has to do with my life's work. I am not interested in suffering for the sake of suffering but because of my life's Spirituality that provides stories and archetypal patterns where life giving events are accomplished within the experience of suffering, resulting in healing that extends beyond the initial scope of suffering. This is exemplified perhaps no better than in The Prayer of St Francis of Assisi when he writes that "it is in dying that we are born to eternal life, Amen".

I mentioned that I think my relationship to suffering has matured this year. I think specifically in a deeper acceptance of *continuity* as a reality within Suffering.

The following pieces for me reflect the themes of Continuity & Suffering:

Twenty Seven

Chicken Madras from the Corner of Northfield and Wisler, A pack of Players for non-smoker, a car radio for company, rainy night, the baby boy cries to have his head wrapped with my head scarf, quasi-life crisis, Season premier of The Office, Emily Dickinson's Narrow Fellow in the Grass, A business plan for Social Justice, A phone discussion with my father about finding the earliest link between the African Coptic Church and Ethiopia, self disappointment, and rest.

"Fall of Icarus" by Bruegel

I do not have a personal affinity to this painting but the Auden poem bellow that I love is based on the piece above, and gives it life for me.

Musée des Beaux Arts by W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

The Poem above reminds me of some of the dynamics of societal suffering (especially from justice withheld) and the cruelty and therapy of continuity, now Bishop's poem bellow seems more personal to her and I think to me, in the experience of suffering from personal loss, continuity becomes an artificially real way to deal with it, get on with things... there is a sarcasm and anguish in the tone that resonates.

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

-- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

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