‘A Renewal’

To have love, one must give love; to give love, one must have it to give. That may be life’s deepest catch-22—any of those logical situations whose suppositions exist only to support the logic that requires them. Love is illogical, or at least it has its own logic.

The moment love is not pursued, there it is; advice to a young lover often follows that logic. “When you stop looking for it or needing it, you will find love.” (It only took about three decades of hearing that for it to sink in for me.)
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‘Hearing’ ‘Voices’

The poet and critic John Greening sums up the career of James Merrill, who conversed with the inhabitants of other planes of reality, in a 2010 essay, “Ouija”:

James Merrill made a point of breaking all the rules, of remaining recklessly formal when all about him were casting off their chains, of being incorrigibly discursive and elitist, shunning the rhythms of speech for something more refinedly musical, and unswerving in his determination to squeeze every last pun out of a line.—John Greening, “Ouija,” The Dark Horse, Summer 2010

Merrill was a rebel in his adherence to rules in a rule-breaking era. He wrote dazzling, perfect poems, and he employed almost every verse form available to him, as an actor might use accents. Greening quotes George Bradley: “Reading James Merrill is enough to make the rest of us suspect we’re not smart enough to write poetry.” Even at his smartest, he is engaging and not impenetrable. His pleasure in the sounds of words and the poetic effects he creates and his many puns are always evident. He compliments his readers in his implied assumption that we must know what he is writing about at least as well as he does.
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Texts from Beyond

The poet and critic John Greening sums up the career of James Merrill, who died twenty years ago tomorrow, in a 2010 essay, “Ouija”:

James Merrill made a point of breaking all the rules, of remaining recklessly formal when all about him were casting off their chains, of being incorrigibly discursive and elitist, shunning the rhythms of speech for something more refinedly musical, and unswerving in his determination to squeeze every last pun out of a line.—John Greening, “Ouija,” The Dark Horse, Summer 2010

He was a rebel in his adherence to rules in a rule-breaking era. He wrote dazzling, perfect poems and employed almost every verse form available to him, as an actor might use accents. Greening quotes George Bradley: “Reading James Merrill is enough to make the rest of us suspect we’re not smart enough to write poetry.” Even at his smartest, he is engaging and not impenetrable. His pleasure in the sounds of words and the poetic effects he creates and his many puns are always evident. He compliments his readers in assuming that we must know what he is writing about at least as well as he.

He is not the poet of nature as much as a poet who will describe a beautiful painting of a natural scene. (In “A Renewal,” a park that he and his beloved are sitting in is rendered as, “A clear vase of dry leaves vibrating on and on.”) American poetry loves its confessional writers, its Beats and its bards like Whitman and Sandburg and Ginsburg, but Merrill made a lifelong project out of reminding us that the life of the mind takes one down a road no less winding that any western blue highway. And he found a way to be a bard, nonetheless.
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‘A Renewal’: You’ll Know When You Know

To have love, one must give love; to give love, one must have it to give. That may be life’s deepest catch-22, Hobson’s choice, Morton’s fork—any of those logical situations whose suppositions exist only to support the logic that requires them. Love is illogical, or at least has its own logic; “How Will I Know?” pretty well sums it up. My mother (it is her birthday today) would have replied to Ms. Houston: “You’ll know when you know.”

The moment love is not pursued, there it is; advice to a young lover often follows that logic. “When you stop looking for it or needing it, you will find love.” (It only took about three decades of hearing that for it to sink in for me, which reminds me that it is Valentine’s Day soon.)
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Inglorious Grown-up-ness

This morning, I became a grown-up: I attempted to remove glasses from my face that were already in my fist.

For those of you who are lifelong glasses-wearers (it is almost 40 years for me), you know that there are several distinct methods of removing eyeglasses and several messages that are communicated in the manner of their removal. Off the top of my head, there’s Two-handed and Thoughtful, One-handed and from the Right and Angry (I usually drop or accidentally fling my glasses across the room with that one), and One-handed and from the Left and Trying to Get to the Heart of Things. There are others. Putting them on in front of people communicates pretty much one thing and one thing only: Enough Fun, Everyone. Back to Work.

I do not remember right now which message I was going for this morning, but both hands were heading for my face, so it must have been Two-handed and Thoughtful or maybe simply Pensive, but like an indecisive ASL translator, I saw the glasses in my left hand as they came towards my face, so I doubled-down and confused everyone including me by improvising this: I scratched my face with the folded-up glasses, moved them from my left hand to my right, opened them, put them on, and then removed them with my left hand—One-handed and Getting to the Heart of Things. All in about five spastic seconds.

It was like semaphore, but with glasses.

It was also such a complete set of mixed messages that I should not have been surprised if someone threw a grenade at me. In some cultures, I probably requested that. It would have almost completely relieved my red-faced embarrassment.

And it was all because I was surprised. I do not do slightly forgetful things. Strike that. I believe, deep down where I know me better than anyone, that I do not do slightly forgetful things at all ever. Misplacing my glasses is something that rests just this side of awful. I had laser surgery earlier this year, which transformed me from a wearer of Bible-thick lenses from my teen years until I had the surgery to a far-sighted person who can now wear cheap, dollar store reading glasses for reading. Thus I have actually left the house without my glasses. Why? I do not do slightly forgetful things. Not me. Not someone so organized I would arrange my pens alphabetically if I could decide on an issue that this would address or simply figure out how to do it.

And simple, insistent, rigid organization has always prevented me from forgetting things: Keys in the same place every night. Wallet, too. Glasses on my bookshelf. Check, check, and check. And I have left the house minus each one of these in turn recently. I need to re-organize the role of organization in my life.

So there it was this morning: Grown-upitude in all its vanity-defeating ingloriousness. In its lapses and gaps. “Mind the Gap” isn’t just a sign for British rail passengers; it should be stamped on my forehead.

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In “Losing the Marbles,” James Merrill calls memory lapses “dreamy blinkings-out.” It is a passage of life in which, ideally, one learns to forget. It is a frustrating one more thing to be balanced against the pleasures of life in the moment, the eternal moment, the always now. Thus, memory lapses are a sort of grace in that they place the forgetter firmly in the present.

Losing The Marbles
for John Malcolm Brinnin
I
Morning spent looking for my calendar—
Ten whole months mislaid, name and address,
A groaning board swept clean …
And what were we talking about at lunch? Another
Marble gone. Those later years, Charmides,
Will see the mind eroded featureless.

Ah. We’d been imagining our “heaven”s.
Mine was to be an acrobat in Athens
Back when the Parthenon—
Its looted nymphs and warriors pristine
By the early light or noon light—dwelt
Upon the city like a philosopher,
Who now—well, you have seen.

Here in the gathering dusk one could no doubt
“Rage against the dying of the light.”
But really—rage? (So like the Athens press,
Breathing fire to get the marbles back.)
Those dreamy blinkings-out
Strike me as grace, if I may say so,
Capital punishment,
Yes, but of utmost clemency at work,
Whereby the human stuff, ready or not,
Tumbles, one last drum-roll, into thyme,
Out of time, with just the fossil quirk
At heart to prove—hold on, don’t tell me … What?

—from The Inner Room (1988)

Merrill develops a connection between the commonplace expression “losing one’s marbles” and needing to find an acceptance of this reality of life and the centuries of rage at the theft from the Parthenon of most of its sculptures, its “marbles.” One can rage or one can find grace and acceptance and … I lost the thought. Sorry.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 29 asks, “When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?”

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