Posts Tagged ‘Robert Frost’

Jesus in Gym Shorts

September 16, 2017

the Secret sits in the middle and knows
Robert Frost, Secret Sits

I headed for the hills
I needed introspection
To muffle my mind
And calibrate direction

Jesus in gym shorts
Smiled and waved “hi”
He was happy and barefoot
As he jogged on by

Was He an apparition
Was he a regular guy?
I searched for a sign
And looked to the sky

I caught up with the jogger
He gave me his advice:
“Always eat your vegetables
And try and act nice”

I could ask a thousand questions
Things that can’t be known
We live a wild dance
But the Secret sits alone

By Richard W. Bray

One Traveler

October 16, 2016

zzzpath

       sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler

Robert Frost

All the hands that you folded,
The roads you did not take
Raise so many questions
And leave a nagging ache

To question and consider
Is certainly wise
But looping your brain
Is sure to paralyze

I could’ve did that
And I might’ve done this
What was I thinking?
What did I miss?

Maturation and growth
Are built upon reflection
But you can drive yourself nuts
With too much introspection

by Richard W. Bray

An Interview on Writing Lyrics and Verse with Richard W. Bray Conducted by Richard W. Bray

February 7, 2016

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Question: When you write in the first person, are you writing about yourself?

Answer: Not necessarily. The decision to use first or third person is often made for phonetic and/or syntactical reasons. For example, I chose first person for “It’s Better to Burst than Ripple Away” largely because it sounds better in first person. For example,

compare this

I’m a rough and tumble cowboy
In a civilized time
My boots are gonna ramble
Till the end of the line

with this

He’s a rough and tumble cowboy
In a civilized time
His boots are gonna ramble
Till the end of the line

The first person just sounds better. And going the from the bilabial m in my to the bilabial b in boots is a smoother transition.

Question: Is this what you meant when you wrote that poetry is a journey across syllables?

Answer: Yes. I can see you’ve done your homework. That’s important for an interviewer. You wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself like the time Charlie Rose asked a guy who had stabbed his wife: “What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your life?”

Question: You have referenced Robert Pinsky’s elegant little book called The Sounds of Poetry.

Answer: So you’ve read that book too. What’s your question?

Question: You need to stop being such a spazz and wait for the question. You’ve written that there’s always tension sound and meaning.

Answer: Yeah. It’s a constant tug-of-war between what you want to say and how you want to sound.

Question: Are you a rough and tumble cowboy in a civilized time?

Answer: Not really. I’m more of a “Can’t we all get along?” sort of a guy.

Question: Do you ever wish you were more of a rough and tumble cowboy?

Answer: Sure. And I’m very sympathetic to guys like that. And I probably wish I were less cautious and more mavericky.

Question:
So your writing is a variety of wish fulfillment?

Answer: Sometimes. But more often I write about the types of people and behaviors which annoy me. “Fastidious Fred”, for example. The genesis of that poem was a news feature I watched about an extremely uptight famous performer who was ironing his own shirt before going onstage.

Question: Who?

Answer: I’d rather not say.

Question:
Why not?

Answer: Because it wouldn’t be nice.

Question: But isn’t the pursuit of Truth and the creation of art more important than being nice to people?

Answer: No. It’s not even close.

Question: But there must be at least a little bit of Fred inside you.

Answer:
Not much. I hate ironing and I’m lousy at it. But like Fred I’ve certainly been guilty of idiotic stubbornness. In a more general sense, however, if you’ll pardon my circular reasoning, Fred comes out of me so he must be inside my. Adrienne Rich wonders about herself (and this applies to all writers): What kind of beast would turn its life into words? And writers turn their lives into words as spiders turn their lives into silk.

Question: You wrote “sometimes I think I have a long way to go when the poem suddenly informs me that I’m finished.” Can you give me an example of when that happened?

Answer:
Sure. It happened with the last thing I wrote, “Put the World in its Place” which I expected to be much longer. But after I inverted the order of the two stanzas I had written, the poem said, “You’ve made your point. There’s nothing to add. Now shut up and take a shower; it’s time to go to work.”

Question: You also wrote “Sometimes I begin writing a poem knowing exactly what I want to say and it turns out just like I planned. Sometimes. Other times I set out to write something, but I end up writing something else.” Can you give me an example of when that happened?

Answer: Sure. Originally “Unspeakable Things” was going to be an Emperor’s New Clothes narrative where someone, probably a kid or a newcomer to the town of Lidane, was going to ask why nobody ever talks about the giant box in the center of town or perhaps he was going to ask why they don’t just tear the stupid thing down. But after writing three descriptive stanzas, it was a little late to begin my narrative and the poem said, “Wrap it up, dude. You made your point.”

Question:
I notice Lidane is an anagram for denial.

Answer: You probably think you’re pretty clever for figuring that out.

Question: You write a lot about denial.

Answer: No I don’t.

Question: How do you decide if what you write is a song or a poem?

Answer: Usually I know from the beginning based on its structure. For example, if it’s iambic it’s probably a poem and if the stresses are more spaced out it’s a song. But sometimes I argue with myself right up until the moment I post it.

Question: Do you primarily consider yourself a songwriter or a poet?

Answer: Neither. I think it was Robert Frost who said you can’t declare yourself a poet; someone else has to do it for you. And no one that I know of has ever accused me of being a poet. And I can’t be a songwriter because I don’t know anything about music. Besides, I’ve only ever read one book about songwriting, and no one has ever set any of my words to music. So I’m just a frustrated would-be lyricist waiting for someone to email me saying, “I just have to make a song out of something you’ve written. Time to quit the day job.”

Question: I noticed that you write a lot about alcoholism and substance abuse.

Answer: I noticed that too.

by Richard W. Bray (and Richard W. Bray)

Sorry, Mr. Keats

July 15, 2015

You aren’t influenced by that Beauty is Truth claptrap.
Robert Frost

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZURN

If ancient Greeks were
Untranslated
And if that urn
Were decimated
Life would go on
Unabated

There ain’t no Truth
And Beauty’s overrated
But Love cannot
Be calculated

by Richard W. Bray

This Happy Now

January 20, 2015
Not Me and Max

Not Me and Max

As soon as Max sees me grab the leash, he goes into spasms of delight, jumping in the air and making little pirouettes. Joy. It’s not just for humans.

(I try not to say the word “walk” in front of Max unless I’m ready to take him for one. So in order not to tease him, I’ll say, “Maybe I’ll take Max for a ‘W-Word’ later this afternoon.”)

Like so many poets, Max is giddy for the natural world, and he cannot contain his enthusiasm for outside smells, sights, and sounds. And like Max, William Wordsworth began to cultivate his love of nature exploring “those few nooks to which my happy feet/ Were limited.”

Unlike so many human beings, however, Max is not overburdened by the demands of his quotidian existence. And I’m pretty sure he’s never given much thought to the meaning of life. It is therefore unlikely that Max could share with Mr. Wordsworth

                               That blessed mood
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world
Is lighten’d:—that serene and blessed mood,
In which affections gently lead us on,
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame,
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the things of life

But ecstasy also hurts. Wordsworth referred to such ecstatic moments as “spots of time.” Spots of time are often induced by nature, and as Sheldon W. Liebman explains, nature is “a domain in which the fundamental conditions of life are mixed, even paradoxical.” Ecstasy hurts because even in its thrall we realize that soon we will return to a world where

                               That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,

Once we get beyond joy “And all its dizzy raptures” we are once again confined to “The still, sad music of humanity”

In the poem “Hamlen Brook,” Richard Wilbur calls this phenomenon “joy’s trick.” (Collected Poems 115).

Confronted with the immense beauty of the natural world, Wilbur laments his inability to “drink all this”

Joy’s trick is to supply
Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
Nothing can satisfy.

For his part, Robert Frost argues that “Happiness Makes Up In Height For What It Lacks In Length” (Collected Poems 445).

There are many moments in Frost’s poetry when

We went from house to wood
For change of solitude. (445)

And the trick for human beings is to appreciate this happy now on its own terms. Frost explains in “Two Look at Two” (283).

‘This must be all.’ It was all. Still they stood,
A great wave from it going over them,
As if the earth in one unlooked-for favor
Had made them certain earth returned their love.

by Richard W. Bray

Listening to the Whirlwind: Theodicy for Deists

May 26, 2012

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows

—Robert Frost

Ever tried to talk to an ant?  Of course not.  Yet the moral, intellectual, and existential divide between God and humanity is obviously greater than the gulf between people and insects.  So why do so many human beings expect to hear from God?

Our Judeo-Christian heritage leads us to assume that God is both creator and creation.  (God is in all things but somehow He is also an omnipotent overseer.)  We assume that God must be perfection.  We assume that God must be infinite in relation to both time and space.  And then we expect this marvelous conglomeration of mystery and paradox to speak to us as we would speak to one another.

Unfortunately, God exists in a realm so many notches above our level of understanding that we utterly lack the necessary equipment to understand Him.  Attempting to contemplate God with a human brain makes as much sense as trying to cut the sun in half with a pair of scissors.

Jon Dryden eloquently expresses the folly:

How can the less the Greater comprehend?
Or finite Reason reach Infinity?
For what cou’d Fathom GOD were more than He.

This simple observation makes me deist. (Although I should hasten to add that Dryden explicitly rejects deism in Religio Laici.)

I don’t know what God is; I will never know what God is, and I’m not going to waste my precious time on earth trying to figure out what God is.

Does this make me a candidate for Winston Niles Rumfoord’s  Church of God the Utterly Indifferent?  My answer is an unequivocal maybe.  (Getting mired in a swamp of paradox is perhaps the greatest peril of groping after God.)  Maybe God cares about humanity; maybe God doesn’t care.

My fellow human beings, however, tend to assume that God cares a great deal about us.  And Christians anthropomorphize God to the point that He can actually feel our pain because a God who cannot suffer is insufferable.

But if God loves us so much, why is our world full of suffering and injustice? Unfortunately, there is no humanly comprehensible answer to this question. But there is an entire branch of theology dedicated to “reconciling God’s traditional characteristics of omnibenevolence, omnipotence and omniscience (all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing, respectively) with the occurrence of evil in the world.”

Humans have been looking for someone to blame for our lot since Gilgamesh. And as long as we insist upon anthropomorphizing God, we are stuck in the cul-de-sac of asking ourselves why the universe is the way it is.

Interestingly, the Old Testament provides an answer for this question which is as profound as it is unsatisfying:

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?

Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?….

Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place….

Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?

Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?

Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.

Where is the way where light dwelleth? and as for darkness, where is the place thereof….

Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder;

To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man;

To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?

Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?  (Job 38)

So God’s answer to it all is: It’s none of your damn business and you wouldn’t be capable of understanding it if I told you anyway.

Or, as the wonderful gospel Midrash (You Can’t Hurry God) He’s Right on Time succinctly notes:

I’m God all by myself/And I don’t need nobody else.”

This vast, spectacular universe is not about us.  But then again, of course it is.  (Another paradox.)

If we read the Book of Job imagining God and Satan sitting in a couple of celestial director’s chairs as they toy with Job for sport, then we must conclude that God is a sick, sad, wicked creep.

But once we reject the silly notion that God is merely some sort of human being who lives in outer space, the Whirlwind begins to make a hell of a lot of sense.

by Richard W. Bray