Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Memories and Some Sartorial Splendour


Yesterday was the date my 3-years-younger brother died, unexpectedly and suddenly, in 1976, a date that stings me every year. This year, I decided to mark it by memorizing* Verse 54 of Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam, the verse whose line "And every winter change to spring" my mother chose to have engraved on Chris' tombstone. I wish, now, that I'd thought to ask her -- when she was still someone who could converse about poetry -- if she'd remembered the anguish of the poem's last verse when she plucked Tennyson's attempt at trust out of her memory. . .

Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final end of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood

That nothing walks with aimless feet
That not one life shall be destroyed
Or cast as rubbish to the void
When God hath made the pile complete

That not one worm is cloven in vain
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shriveled in a fruitless fire
Nor but subserves another’s gain.

Behold, we know not anything
I can but trust that good will fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream; but what am I?
An infant crying in the night;
An infant crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry.

As you must have guessed, that's Christopher and me, his big sister, in the photo above, sometime in the very late 50s. My print is not the original but a copy made when Mom and Dad were sorting through photo files in the approach to Dad's demise -- he was so good about having things in order before he left us. But it's my Mom's schoolteacher printing on the back that identifies the two of us. . . .losses folded into losses, but also joys and blessings and memories. . . . And how can't you love a photo of a red-wheeled turquoise wagon carring a little boy in a shiny green snowsuit? 

*Memorizing Poetry is a new project of mine -- trying to aim at one a week, but we'll see how it goes. . .

28 comments:

  1. It's hard to write.
    Tears come unbidden when I read this - the abyss is still there from a sudden death in my own family years ago but still too close.
    I admire your resolve to memorize poems. Such clear reflections they express.

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    1. Yes, that notion of closure is a suspicious one, for me. I think we manage the wounds, but they never really close. Take care.

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  2. I hope that you don't mind me saying but I see some of Nola in that photo of you!
    How sad to lose a sibling..
    and how fitting that you should commemorate to memory that poignant poem.
    Hope that there is a bright spot in your day mater...the sun is shining down here in Victoria and I do hope it makes an appearance up your way.

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    1. Don't mind at all -- a friend said exactly the same thing and she's almost convinced me.
      Not a wink of sun up here -- I'll try to imagine it!

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  3. There is happy and sad in that memory. It's lovely that you have the picture. I just went with my mother to recycle the last of my father's clothes. There was a blue sweater that I had bought him to match his eyes. But some poor person (perhaps with blue eyes) will have a good, clean warm sweater.

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    1. What a lovely thought -- it's tough to give up some of those special garments. I've still got one of my dad's, 12+ years later . . .

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  4. What a beautiful photo of you and your brother! I'm sorry for your loss. I find the month of February to be emotionally difficult, as it marks the anniversary of my father's passing in 1999.

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    1. Oh, you were so young when you lost him -- how tough! Take care, will you?

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  5. Beautiful photo and a beautiful post. (It's such a raw time for you...) xo

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  6. Those old photos are such treasures, especially when we have lost someone precious. I haven't memorised poetry for many years. I think it's a lovely memorial fro your to undertake - and very good brain exercise.

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    1. Remembering and memorising -- both worthwhile exercises in their own ways.

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  7. How sad to lose a brother so young. My younger brother is one of my very best friends ...

    And I am inspired by your aim of memorising a poem a week. The closest I'll get is trying to read some poetry every week.

    May our trust be rewarded ...

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    1. It is/was sad -- I often imagine who he might have become. . . .
      I haven't tried memorising poetry for ever so long, and a few on-line friends (Twitter buddies) were talking about it. It's been good so far, but it's early days . . .

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  8. How sweet to see that old photo of you and your brother. There is such poignancy in the last stanza of the poem. Loss and grief are great equalizers of the human condition.

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    1. The last stanza gets me every time. The speaker tries so hard to arrive at trust/faith through reason, but finally you can see how vulnerable he feels, the anguish is clear -- night-time, an infant, crying. . . .and for a poet to have "no language but a cry" . . . devastating!

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  9. Your loss andy our post brought tears to my eyes this morning. I am glad to see that you have a picture with happier memories that accompany it. Last year my brother scanned and distributed family slides that I hadn't seen in maybe 40 years and it truly is a bittersweet experience.

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    1. Those old photos are stunning, almost literally, aren't they -- slides even more so when you see them projected.

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  10. So sorry for your loss, no matter how long ago. Siblings are so precious.

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  11. I remember you talking about your brother's illness on Duchesse's blog. I am sorry too, Mater, it must be hard living without your dear brother.

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    1. We were on such different paths at the time, but still -- I've always wondered how we might have woven them together, with time.

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  12. It's a lovely photo wrapped in and around memories precious to you - thanks for sharing it all with us. Our oldest daughter was born in 1976 and died 11 years later. We can all attest to the muddling of memories as the years pass but such losses are still keenly felt.

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    1. My oldest was born the same year, so your comment made me gasp at the pain I could instantly imagine. I'm so sorry for your loss, and I hope that there are memories that bring some consolation. The loss of a child, I'm sure, is a loss that never finds "closure"

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  13. Such a loss for you, for your entire family. As I recall this is the brother you lost to the same heart condition my son has. A very beautiful memorial to him.

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    1. It does sound as if the condition is the same -- we have always wished the doctor had told my parents so that care might have been taken, but my brother was old enough, at 19, to keep the knowledge to himself

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  14. Dear Mater - I read and was so moved by your post and was about to leave a comment when my phone rang, with the news I have now written about on my own blog. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a kind, thoughtful message when your own memories were so close to the surface. But, of course, you understand and, yes, every winter does change to spring.

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    1. We must hope and trust, I suppose, unless we surrender to despair. And truly, there is so much in the world that does console, if we can find the energy to look. Currently reading Mark Doty's Dog Years, a wonderful meditation/memoir on loss centering on Doty's beloved dogs but also concerning his negotiation with death and mourning of a beloved partner as well as numerous friends. I suspect you'd find it nourishing or at least cathartic right now.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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