galway kinnell

Into The Darkness They Go, The Wise And The Lovely – St. Vincent Millay

darkness-2“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” – Mark Twain

Now, apart from the absence of light, what’s the fuss about darkness? Well it’s when everything otherworldly happens. Ghosts and vampires and werewolves come out, the early Saxons called it the death-mist, and although the darkness is not without its dangers, it’s the mystical time for dreams and magic. The time for imagination and contemplation. Shakespeare brought us the Prince of Darkness from King Lear, composers like Satie and Debussy wrote tranquil Nocturnes for solo piano, Chopin wrote 21 of them, the first was written by the Irish composer John Field, known as the Father of the romantic nocturne. Creation began with darkness, into which light is then created, because you can’t have one without the other. Incidentally, as far as lighting architects are concerned, much beautiful light can only appear because of darkness. In fact, they’re always looking at new ways of lighting our cities in order to preserve the darkness, because we’re producing too much light. If you ever see those night shots of the earth from space, it’s supposed to be dark, but all you see are lights, spoiling the darkness, not reaching the people they’re supposedly meant for. I guess if we appreciated the darkness more, we’d be able to enhance it with light rather than trying to eliminate it altogether.

So today we’ll come at DARKNESS from a few angles beginning with the blindness of Jorges Luis Borges.  The Argentinean short-story writer and poet in his 1974 book In Praise Of Darkness takes us on a journey of self-realization in the company of darkness. Like his father before him, Borges became blind in his fifties and many of his later works focus on the effect this had on him as a writer. The darkness of the title poem though, also means old age, something his blindness has been preparing him for. A time for reflection and inward focus, or the time of our greatest bliss as he calls it, freedom from the distraction of all the eye sees I suppose, the things that steal us away from ourselves. And rather than reject the coming darkness, he welcomes it All this should frighten me, he says, but it is a sweetness, a return. He speaks of blindness as an involuntary meditation, a time to get to know himself, remember and enjoy in peace the great books he read, the people he knew, the things he did, without being bombarded with new information all the time. It struck me how preoccupied we are nowadays, news reports, facts, figures, social media updates, stuff coming at us every minute diverting our attention from ourselves, leaving little time for inner focus and centeredness. For Borges, sitting quietly in the darkness of himself, he will come to find his algebra, his key his mirror.

Just press play and listen to the show!

Night-time is an occasion for contemplation and imagination and a lot of writers and poets find they’re at their most creative in the dark. Particularly before sleep or waking, because you’re closest to your dreams and seem to be able to access more easily the abstract corridors of the brain. My Darling Turns To Poetry At Night is a love poem by Australian poet Anthony Lawrence from his new collection Headwaters. And it appealed to me because when I first started to write poetry, I wrote at night or around the dreaded 4 in the morning. Actually I was watching a Tedtalks the other evening about the 4am mystery, the idea that you’re awake at worst possible hour, along with the morticians. Faron Young and Leonard Cohens song 4 in the morning, Judi Dench’s movie and Wiswava Szymborska’s poem where she calls it The hollow hour. The very pit of all other hours, well the mystery of all these, can all be traced back to the 1932 surrealist sculpture by Alberto Giacomo ‘The Palace At Four in The Morning’, that’s the start point apparently for every artistic depiction of 4am, but a very productive hour it seems. Anyway, Lawrence uses the obsessive quality of the Italian Villanelle form to compare his lover to poetry, in all it’s beauty and complexity. In the stillness of the dark this love becomes apparent and glorious as the stars, the commas on her face, her heartbeat is a metaphor, a late bloom of red flowers that refuse to fade, ah the romance of it all  the dreamy nocturnal quality and this is a love that will last for eternity as he concludes that their bodies will leave ghost prints on the bed.

The epigraph of the poem First Night, by American poet and professor Billy Collins, comes from a quote by Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jimenez The worst thing about death must be the first night, and that gives us an idea of where his thoughts are going. Jimenez lost his father when he was only eighteen, experiencing quite young the darkness of his first night. Collins raises more questions about what happens after death, to both the dead and the living, will the dead gather to watch the sun and moon rise for example. When you lose someone it’s hard to see past the next minute let alone day, so doubts about whether there will be a sunrise, a language, a bed for any of us abound. How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death, he says, again being unable to find the words to express our grief. Collins concludes, as do all our writers today, by reminding us to pay more attention to our lives, our world, enjoy what we have while we have it. Being present and finding alternative ways of dealing with grief, is one of those little tricks to better living that all the great philosophers talk about. I’m reading a book by Sarah Bakewell at the moment about the life of the 16th century French philosopher Montaigne, he was heavily influenced by Greek & Roman philosophers like Seneca and Plutarch and they were always conducting their own little thought experiments on ways of living without anxiety.  Plutarch suggested that if you lose someone precious you can try valuing them differently by imagining that you never knew them, thus producing a different emotion! He famously put this in a letter to his wife after the loss of their daughter, I’m not sure if she found any consolation in that but the intent of course was to ease her suffering. Anyway, for those of us who have lost someone, there’s no denying the truth in Jimenez’s words, that for the living at least, the first night is the worst after a death.

Also on today’s show: Wait by Galway Kinnell,  Lay Back The Darkness by Edward Hirsh and  They Sit Together On The Porch by Wendell Berry.  Music from Matthew & The Atlas, Alice Boman, Will Oldham & Johnny Cash and more …..

darkness

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” Mary Oliver

Advertisements

Don’t Regret Your Regrets

To regret deeply, is to live afresh. Henry Thoreauundo

Regret is a way of thinking, in which we blame ourselves for things that happened, or when we feel responsible for a decision that came out badly.  But lamenting things that occurred in the past is part of life, it’s a universal pastime, and this show is more about seeing regret as a reminder of things we can do better as opposed to things we believe we’ve done badly. It’s all about how you look at life really isn’t it.  Regret is an emotion, and we experience it when we think we could be happier now, had we done something differently in the past. Our writers to day are going to help us understand regret, like WS Merwin as he considers that some regrets haunt us more than others. Of the many studies and theories on the subject, it’s been found that regrets over things we didn’t do, persist longer than regrets over things we did. Mainly because, psychologically, when it comes to inaction, our mind’s are then free to imagine in limitless ways, what might have been, what we could have done and how it would all be playing out now in the present. Whereas if we had done something, then there is only one alternative to play with and that’s not having done it, so there’s less opportunity for regret.

We’ll consider where some regrets come from on a familial and marital level, with thoughts from Ann Truitt, who realised too late the necessity for complete honesty in marriage and in love.  Regret can feel so awful because it kind of implies we’re at fault in some way. With thoughts from Parker Palmer and Rumi we’ll consider the benefits of being reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.

 

 

Life is full of choices. Some go well, others go badly wrong, and those that go wrong lead to regret. And as we’ve discussed, some regrets are worse than others. Doing things or not doing things that affect our own lives is bad enough but doing something that has a negative impact on somebody else’s life, is a difficult regret to live with. But we have to live with it, making peace with regret is essential to healthy living.
There’s some comfort in numbers though I think, knowing that there are millions more of us feeling the same level of regret, maybe worse, over education, career, marriage, kids, that hair-cut or dreadful tattoo, consoles me a little. Don’t get me wrong, I mean I torture myself with regrets about not staying in college longer, coming back to Ireland when I was doing well in Europe, I regret the things I say when the red mist comes down, (I have a terrible temper :)), the list is endless but in order for me to move forward, for us to move forward, we have to find ways of forgiving ourselves, having more compassion for ourselves and learning to welcome regret as we would joy or any other emotion, preferably without judgement. Accepting it as part of the human experience, which is easier said than done. American poet and novelist Charlie Smith, I believe, exemplifies this idea of embracing the negative, in his poem In Praise Of Regret.

 

The Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Galway Kinnell, reminds us of all we have to be thankful for. Reminds us of the importance of engaging with  the ordinary things in life. Despite the horrors of the world, the atrocities committed by us and to us, we are a blessed and fortunate people, living in and with the miracle of creation. In his poem, Why Regret? from his collection Strong Is Your Hold, he pretty much turns regret into gratitude.

 

You know, I’ve always believed that people who say they have no regrets are simply lying. If we’re living we’re regretting. And that’s okay, it’s possible that our regrets aren’t as bad as we think they are and they can be important teachers. Obviously we can’t change the past but we can change how it affects our present. Forgiveness is crucial. I guess instead of beating ourselves up about things beyond our control, we could recognize more the productive side of regret, improving ourselves and putting things right. And remember every moment is an opportunity for change, we can change our attitude, our thinking, we are free to begin again, in the words of Rumi “Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself.”

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Mark Twain.

Music today from Midge Ure, Morrissey, Ben Lee, Yann Tiersan & more…