Sunday, August 9, 2015

Distant echoes, half-remembered hills

A poem I like a lot is “Song for Lost Youth” by one Neil Theasby of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom, Europe, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Universe. I liked the poem enough to add it a while back to my sidebar over on the right side of the screen.

If your eyeballs are simply too tired or too lazy to make the trip or you gave up scrolling for Lent and never resumed the practice, I have reproduced the poem below for your reading convenience:

Song for Lost Youth

Perhaps I should have cradled it
Like a dove
Kept it safe with tender love
But I squandered it -
Like a wild mountain stream
Desperate for an ocean
That was but a distant dream.
...I just never thought
That I could have loitered in the shallows
Reflecting the blueness of the sky
- Concealing silver fishes
- Quietly biding my time
- Stretching it out.
And so, and so it’s gone now
- My ephemeral youth
- That precious once only gift
- That honeyed sweetness,
Leaving only the trembling resonance
Of distant echoes
From half-remembered hills.

(Neil Theasby, 2013. Used by permission.)

You can have your Tennysons, your Byrons, your Whitmans, your Brownings. Today I’ll take Theasby. His poem resonates with me.

I think I have figured out why I like Neil’s poem so much. For me, it’s not just about youth. It’s about life.

I’m no spring chicken, and there are very few hills left for me. To be more accurate, probably none. On my next birthday -- still several months away -- I’ll be 75 years old. I’ve reached the coastal plain. I’m getting nearer to the sea all the time. I can feel the breezes. I can hear the sea birds. I can smell the seawater.

Some people say life is like climbing a mountain and that we struggle ever upward, surmounting obstacle after obstacle, until at last, after always ascending, we finally reach the summit. “Song for Lost Youth” turns that metaphor on its head and describes life as a descent instead, a headlong plunge that finds us cascading from the dizzying heights, ever downward, to the inevitable place where we join all who have come before us and all who will come after.

You have to hand it to poets. They can come up with some nifty metaphors.

For example, William Wordworth (1770 - 1850) wrote the following in “Ode on Intimations of Immortality From Recollections Of Early Childhood” about birth:

“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:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”

...and William Cullen Bryant (1794 - 1878) wrote in “Thanatopsis” about death:

“So shalt thou rest -- and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living, and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before will chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glides away, the sons of men--
The youth in life’s fresh spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man--
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn, shall follow them.

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

All that having been said, all those metaphors having gone under the bridge or over the dam or nighty-night to bed or down the trail with the camels (pick one), I hope to keep on breathing until I am 108 and outlive the lot of you.


  1. I am humbled that you have lingered over the implications of my poem, considering it, contemplating it. If it has any value, poetry should surely touch people and cause them to reflect meaningfully upon human life. There are infinite ways of looking at it, weighing it, interpreting it. By the way and very co-incidentally our next door neighbour's oldest son is called William Bryant!

  2. Having just left Snow's recent post and come here, your words have not stopped the tears, but are so, so well written. Writing is one of your superpowers. I think you should start wearing a cape.
    It's a lovely post mind you, reflective, and beautiful poems too. 108 eh? Time to win more stars at the next...'What's in the Trug?!' *laughs*

  3. Beautiful and thought-provoking post, as always!

  4. I hope to see your 108 and raise you one.

    On Writing Poetry

    For those who take the time,
    The thoughts translated
    Refined, written.
    Therein lies a seed,
    An idea planted.
    That can alter as it grows
    And change the course of a life
    And a life can change a world.

  5. Should you live to 108, that would make me 84 ~ and I don't expect to make that ripe age, so you will indeed outlive me Sir. I have to say that your contemplation of your demise depresses me a bit. If your demise in the blogging sense is nigh, wouldn't you rather reflect on all the wonderful things your life has reaped ~ not for my sake, but for your children and grandchildren? I hope that doesn't sound impertinent, because it's not meant to be. Always your biggest fan in Far North Queensland.

  6. Yorkshire Pudding, lingering over your poem has been one of my great pleasures.

    All Consuming, thank you for your very kind words. I'm ordering a set of seven capes, each embroidered with a different day of the week.

    LightExpectations, thank you ma'am!

    Kate, you are no mean poet yourself!

    carolincairns (my biggest fan in Far North Queensland), I didn't mean to depress you, sorry. Nor have I any plans to throw in the blogging towel (boxing metaphor) any time soon.

  7. So you and WWII started at same time you being born under FDR and I under Truman). I remember my first delighted reading of Thanatopsis ( when I was 18 or 19) and my astonishment that Bryant was himself a teenager when he started it, although I think I recall that it took him some years to complete it.

  8. Snowbrush, the best English teacher in all of Texas in my opinion, Mr. D.P. Morris, made us memorize the last nine lines of "Thanatopsis" and recite them in front of the whole class. I don't think we teenagers understood or appreciated what he was doing at the time, but I can still do it today.

  9. I had to memorize those same nine lines. I’ve since been tempted to memorize the whole poem (I know a lot of poems by heart), but haven’t done it yet and might never do so.