“I think I’m going to take my time,
life is too short
for immortality and its attendant disregards.
I have enough memories now for any weather,
either here or there.
I will take my time.
Tomorrow’s not what I’m looking forward to, or the next day.
My home isn’t here, but I doubt that it’s there either –
Empty and full have the same glass,
though neither shows you
the way. ”
Charles Wright Poet Laureate 2014
Charles Wright, our new Poet Laureate, shared this poem during a PBS interview I saw recently. While seeming a gentle man, Mr. Wright appeared more ordinary than I expected, bookish and bright, but more the next door neighbor you’d like to talk to than a celebrity, or poet of reknown. His thoughts felt like they could have grown in my own head and not felt like weeds.
It’s been a while since I have written here. I think I am somewhat a creature of habit. For quite a while writing this blog was my way of being, but when I stopped during my husband’s recovery, I fell out of the pattern. Charles Wright’s sharing of his perspective on life and poetry jolted me back to thinking about things and wanting to share them.
I’m not sure when I felt in love with English, with poetry and prose. I know reading became a way to understand the big things in life and the small. Discussing the meanings behind works like Tennyson’s poem, In Memorium, or Faulkner’s novel, Light in August, as well as a lot of other literature in English classes in college, changed my thinking, shaped my choices, made me more me, as they helped clarify what I believed and why I believed it.
There are passages and quotes that stopped me in my tracks when, like one of Emerson’s sleepers on the train, I was headed in a thoughtless direction. J.R.R. Tolkien‘s quote, “Many who live deserve death, and some who die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in judgement, fearing for your safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.” was one such quote. It made me completely rethink my view on capital punishment. Other passages in other works simply made me think.
Wright’s poem and especially the line, “empty and full have the same glass but neither show you the way,” created another one of those philosophical pauses for me to think about life.
I loved Wright’s concepts on time in this poem, dealing with life’s end by taking our time; not getting so caught up in thoughts of immortality as to disregard the present. I am intrigued that like Wordsworth in Intimations of Immortality, Wright seems to allude to memories of here…..and of “heaven.” Wordsworth says it like this:
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home”
But Wright says his “…home isn’t here,” yet equally doubts “it’s there.” Ah, so the poet wants me to think, to question. So… is the poet caught in the middle between here and there, a child of earth who has had glimpses of eternity? Or like many of us, does he just believe in the now, love life, and just not want to leave it? Or is he wanting to be with God, but not wanting to leave family and friends? Perhaps he is caught somewhere between “full of life” and “not yet quite empty of living?” Knowing that more of his time on earth lies behind, but not sure what waits ahead, unclear which way to go? Wright’s answer to these question is implied; it is a simple but good one: Don’t live for tomorrow whatever it may bring, but live in the now, fully. Yet, also implied is that to fully live one must be touch with the eternal.
For me, I believe it matters less about half-empty or half-full than what you do to fill your glass. I think, for much of our life, we pour ourselves out into the lives of others, (our friends, our children,) and even into our work. Often, we fill up with joy by doing that, but at other times it feels we are running near empty.
At least while we live, I think it is our job to find ways to refill the glass. Certainly that requires knowing that unless we care for ourselves, attending to our physical, mental, and spiritual health, we can accomplish very little. We do need to take a rest, live in the moment. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, we need to take a walk in the wood, go to the beach and rediscover “the world in a grain of sand,” wander a meadow and “find heaven in a wildflower.”
Perhaps to reenergize, you need to listen to a concert, play with a child, pray or meditate, write or read, exercise or sleep. Whatever it is, fill your cup anew so that you can pour yourself out and refill your cup, only to pour and fill again and again. I toast the gift you give in doing that.
Welcome back! Loved the reflections on what literature has provided you, including my favorite “made me more me.”
Negative and positive signs cancel each other out. Leaving us nowhere or everywhere? At the very least suspending judgement as to half full or half empty maybe help one find that eternal place of the now. Beautifully written blog, Joanne.
A very thoughtful post, Jo, and I really liked your approach to the old conundrum through literature. Your love of English shines through and your knowledge puts me to shame: I spent three years studying English literature at uni and there are some new ones on me here!
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I like the image of filling yourself up with gifts of being alive and then constantly emptying yourself out with the engagement of life.
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